Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Word for Lent: Priorities!

(Ash Wednesday 2015: This homily was given on February 18, 2015 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Matthew 6: 1-18.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Ash Wednesday 2015]

Every year since 2010 I’ve asked the Lord to give me a “theme word” for Lent to share with you on Ash Wednesday—a word that can help to focus us and guide us in our Lenten disciplines.
So this year I prayed about it for a while, and the word that came to my mind (put there, I trust, by the Holy Spirit) was the word “priorities”.  And that should not have surprised me because Lent is about conversion—it’s about deepening our personal conversion to Jesus Christ—and personal conversion always involves adjusting one’s priorities.

For example, when we take our teenagers to the Steubenville East youth conference in July every year, many of them open their hearts to God and experience a deepening of their faith.  And, in the process, their priorities change.  All of a sudden getting to Mass every Sunday and holy day—and even sometimes during the week—becomes very important to them.  It becomes a priority—or at least more of a priority than it was before.  Praying every day becomes a priority; developing good Christian friendships with other teens becomes a priority; getting to confession regularly becomes a priority; standing up for the truth becomes a priority; helping other people becomes a priority.

In his message for Lent this year Pope Francis said this:

“Usually, when we are healthy and comfortable, we forget about others (something God the Father never does): we are unconcerned with their problems, their sufferings and the injustices they endure … Our heart grows cold. As long as I am relatively healthy and comfortable, I don’t think about those less well off. Today, this selfish attitude of indifference has taken on global proportions, to the extent that we can speak of a globalization of indifference. It is a problem which we, as Christians, need to confront.

We become indifferent to the needs of others when our priorities are out of order—when they need adjusting.  And, as the Holy Father indicates here, this often happens when we’re experiencing good health and our lives are relatively comfortable.  We’re so busy enjoying the ways God has blessed us that we forget that there are many other people out there who are not so blessed.

The three traditional disciplines of Lent—prayer, fasting and almsgiving—are supposed to help us change or at least modify our priorities, so that we are more concerned with the things that really matter, namely, loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; and loving our neighbor as ourself.

Decide today how you intend to practice those 3 disciplines this Lent.  For prayer, how about coming to daily Mass, at least a couple of times a week?  How about making a holy hour once a week?  How about coming to Stations of the Cross every Tuesday at 6:05?  How about praying the Rosary or reading the Scriptures every day?  How about getting to confession?  How about coming to our parish mission?

For fasting, in addition to fasting as the Church says we must today and on Good Friday, and besides giving up candy or something else you like, how about giving up some of your leisure time?  How about giving up some of your leisure time to volunteer to help a local charitable organization?  How about giving up some of your leisure time to go visit someone you know who’s homebound or in a nursing home?  (Fasting, remember, is about more than simply giving up food!)

And almsgiving.  We think of almsgiving in terms of giving financial assistance to others (and it does include that, of course); but there are other ways to engage in this discipline.  For example, if you’re young and in good health, you could volunteer to shovel out your elderly neighbors (without pay, of course!) after the next snow storm.  Now I’d like to think we won’t have any more snowstorms this year—but, in all likelihood, that’s just wishful thinking.

My prayer today is that all of us will re-prioritize our lives in some way during the next forty days through our Lenten disciplines.  And for some of us the process can begin right now with the distribution of ashes.  You know, for all too many Catholics, ashes actually have a priority over the Eucharist!  And so, as soon as they receive their ashes after the homily, they walk out of church!  Well, those people need to reverse their priorities!

We need to remember, ashes are a sacramental, but the Eucharist is a sacrament.  Ashes are a sign of our desire to change and re-prioritize our lives, but the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of the One—Jesus Christ—who saves us and gives us the power to change our lives for the better!

And that’s why Mass—and especially Sunday Mass—should always be our TOP SPIRITUAL PRIORITY as Catholics.