Spiritual readings for Sunday 18th of February
12 二月 2018 國際總會消息
Week of 12th February 2018 (reference: readings for Sunday 18th February)
1st Sunday of Lent- Year B - Readings: Gn 9,8-15; Psalm 24 (25); 1 Pe 3,18-22; Mk 1,12-15
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the Gospel."
This week, we begin the period of Lent, which consists of the forty days preceding the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. It is a period of reflection based on fasting, prayer and almsgiving. These three elements only make sense if they aim at being closer to God: fasting is a sacrificial offering, prayer is an offering of humility (in the sense of accepting God's mercy) and almsgiving brings us closer to God, who is present in the person we help.
The number forty appears in the Bible associated with a test of faith or resistance: forty years that the people of Israel were under the rule of the Philistines or of Saul; forty years that Moses waited in Egypt; and, finally, forty days spent by Jesus in the desert, before suffering martyrdom.
It is interesting that it is the very Holy Spirit who leads Jesus into the desert to fast and then be tempted by the devil. In fact, it is sometimes necessary that we leave the world aside and take some time of our lives in order to fast, reflect, to check if our faith is a comfortable participation in the sacraments, or if it is a true gift of our life to God. Jesus "withdrew" forty days to prepare himself for the suffering to come. We should not see the moments in which we move away from the world to fast and pray, as suffering, but as a chance to get out of this period better than when we started it. And this is the challenge for the next forty days: that the practice of fasting, prayer and almsgiving could serve to be, after Easter, different, stronger, less afraid of evangelizing and of facing the daily problems.
To this end, we need first, as Peter says in his letter (in today's second reading), be able to "die for the flesh in order to return to life through the Spirit". To die for the flesh means to leave aside vanity, anxiety, some food, the feeling of revenge against the one who disappointed us, exaggerated greed for money, the power and the glory. To die for the flesh also means giving priority to God: to take a bit of our daily time and simply pray or hear what He wants from us. Finally, to die for the flesh also means to leave our "bubble" and reach out to the brother that needs us, either with charity or with a moment of attention to listen to him.
For the Vincentian, these exercises should be part of every day of the year, not only in Lent; I invite all Vincentians to intensify the fasting, the prayer and the visit even more during these forty days. We will certainly be tempted to give up, or to think ‘what is the use of making the sacrifice if nobody does, and if God loves us anyway’ (with or without sacrifice). But the exercise of Lent is not performed for God: in the end, it is done for us. God does not need our sacrifice, but we do, we need to strengthen us in order to overcome our flaws, our limits and our tendency to think that we are the centre of the universe. We need to transform ourselves through the release of everything that takes us away from God. Lent is a very good moment for this release. It is time to situate ourselves in the "desert" of our life and let go of everything that makes us uncomfortable. There are two ways (which complement each other) to carry out this liberation.
The first way is to seek the "emptying" of our vices, i.e. to leave the vices in the "desert of Lent". The second way is to fill the empty space, the "desert", with virtues. According to the author of the book "Mystic Leadership - a model based on the Vincentian experience", every virtue has an opposite vice. People are driven by virtues or by their opposites, such as prudence - opposite of impulsiveness and humility - opposite of arrogance. We face constantly the choice between a virtue and its opposite - a vice.
In this Lent, the proposal is to do a simple, but very effective exercise. Let's take a small piece of paper and, on the left, write the three virtues that we want to develop in our life. For example, there are three groups of virtues: cardinal, theological and Vincentian ones.
The cardinal virtues are: prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. The theological ones are: faith, hope and charity. And the Vincentian virtues are: simplicity, humility, meekness, mortification and zeal. On the right part of the paper, we write the three vices that we want to "leave in the desert of Lent".
For example, the vices may be the opposites of virtues or they can be something more specific, such as: stop drinking in excess, quit smoking, not to leave the family alone, stop speaking negatively of others... the most difficult sacrifices of "letting go in the desert", more difficult than fasting or refraining from eating meat! I propose that we take this piece of paper in our pocket and every week, we exercise one of the three virtues and "let go" of one of the three vices that we have listed. Let's not forget that conversion is an exercise of choice that we do every week, every day, every moment... To let the Holy Spirit take us to the desert is to go within ourselves, to the depths of our soul, so that we can know us better: to know our strengths and our weaknesses, to understand our limits and discover that the "covenant" with God makes everything possible, everything becomes more cheerful and meaningful.
The first reading presents the Covenant with God as the salvation of the flood, having as agent Noah. The second reading presents this same covenant, but now as the baptism with the Holy Spirit as agent. The Gospel calls us to prepare ourselves during forty days for the final covenant, the Eucharist and the Resurrection of the Lord, where the agent is God himself who gets to the limit of sacrifice for our sake.