Posted by: L. E. Barnes | February 21, 2010

First Sunday of Lent

Today is the first Sunday of Lent. Last Sunday our catechumenate class was called off due to inclement weather–though Judy Schosser admitted we probably could have held class anyway, given how quickly the snow and ice melted away. But better safe than sorry!

The last time we met (Feb. 7) we discussed chapter five from the Kreeft book, Catholic Christianity. That chapter discusses the first three of the ten commandments, which speak to our relationship with God. Today we discussed chapter six, which focuses on the fourth commandment: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” This commandment, however, ultimately covers more than just your obligations to your parents; it raises broader questions about authority in general, both at home and in society. For instance, in marriage the husband is to have authority over the wife, but this does not mean dominance. Furthermore, those in positions of authority must recognize the limits of their power. That is, they too are under authority, having either a direct superior they must answer to or a set of rules/laws they must follow. I raised the issue of civil disobedience: when is it appropriate for Christians to refuse to obey their government? The answer is that when the laws of the state conflict with God’s laws, we must obey God’s laws. The state in fact has no right to tell us to disobey God’s laws; if it does so, it has overstepped its own God-given boundaries. (But of course, sometimes there are “gray areas” where Christians will disagree about whether a human law should be followed.) Likewise, which has a higher priority: the state or the family? The family does, since it is the building block of society. (Or as Albert Einstein, obviously paraphrasing Christ’s words about the Sabbath, said, “The state was made for man, not man for the state.”)

The discussion on Kreeft had to be kept short today, since we needed to discuss Lent. One member of the class remarked that it was fitting for this chapter from the Kreeft book, with its focus on obedience, to be discussed at the start of the Lenten season, since this is a time when we should stop to consider how well we are obeying the Lord. Good point!

Then came the discussion on Lent. First, Lent is a time of conversion for those preparing to enter the Church this Easter, and it is a time of reconversion for those of us who are already Catholic. There are three main disciplines of Lent: fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Fasting, by the way, refers to abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during this season as well as having only two small meals and one full meal–and no eating between meals!–on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Prayer can involve not just praying in private but going to morning mass and praying the stations of the cross. (For those of us at St. Peters: There is an additional weekday morning mass at 7 am during Lent, and stations of the cross are observed at 7 pm on Fridays.) Almsgiving should include not only giving money but also giving your time and your talents to help others.

The purpose of these disciplines is to help us recenter our lives on Christ as we head toward the height of the liturgical year: Easter. One of our group leaders told about how moved she has felt when being in the church after the Easter Vigil mass and reflecting on how the candle over the tabernacle, which contains the Blessed Sacrament and thus Christ’s presence, being relit that night, and she recommended that we take time then to sit and meditate on how Christ is once again present. Easter, she reminded us, is at the center of our faith.

By the way, keep in mind that during Lent, Sundays are not fast days. As during the rest of the liturgical year, they are considered “little Easters.”

Because of time constraints, we weren’t able to get into this Sunday’s scripture readings. They were Deuteronomy 26:4-10, Romans 10: 8-13, and Luke 4: 1-13. Each has pretty obvious connections to Lent. The Hebrews spent forty years wandering in the wilderness, and Christ spent forty days fasting and praying in the wilderness. The devil tempted Christ with the same things that humans have lusted for throughout history: power, fame, and wealth. Yet he resisted their siren call and was empowered to go forth and do the will of the Father. Our Lenten disciplines are meant to empower us in the same way. I watched a short video reflection on today’s readings in which a priest admonished his viewers to focus not so much on doing more for the Lord during this season but to focus on doing better at what we already are doing for Him. (FYI: This and other video reflections on the daily scripture readings can be found the website of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops–usccb.org.)

Next week we will discuss penance and chapter 7 of Catholic Christianity.

For those in St. Peter’s catechumenate class: Feel free to post comments and/or questions! I’d love this to become a place where we can discuss things!

And as one lady said she reminds her third graders: Make this the best Lent ever!

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