The season of Lent will begin Ash Wednesday, Feb. 13. Experience teaches us that we can begin this season of repentance with many good intentions that soon fall by the wayside. Resolutions to pray more, fast or eliminate bad habits easily fade amid the wear and tear of our daily routine. As Lent approaches, we might be asking ourselves, “Will this year be different?”
In this Year of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI has invited us to observe the season of Lent in a way that will make a fundamental difference in our lives. He has asked us to reflect on the relationship between faith and charity, on how faith opens the door of our hearts to God’s love for us. When we truly believe that God is love (cf. 1 Jn 4:8) and that God loves us more than we could ever ask or imagine, then we rediscover our calling to be men and women of true and authentic charity.
A LIVING FAITH
Many people think of faith as belief in a set of unproven and abstract ideas and arbitrary rules, a kind of impersonal belief system that more or less guides their lives. Others think it doesn’t matter much what they believe so long as they are nice to those around them, and for that reason they do not seriously fulfill their obligation to be well-formed in the faith. However, the Christian faith that we are called to profess is neither simply a personal philosophy of life nor a feeling about God and others. It is something much more.
Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit given to us in the sacrament of baptism that enables us to accept as true and life-giving all that God has revealed and teaches us in and through the Church. We must daily invest our whole selves in this gift of faith, through which we embrace the truth that God is love. Through faith, we are caught up in the merciful and redeeming love which God’s Son, Jesus Christ, communicated to the world by his life, death and resurrection. Through faith, we accept the merciful love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
Lent calls us to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord. During this time of grace, many in our parishes are making final preparations for the sacrament of baptism and entry into the Church at Easter. Those of us already baptized are called during Lent to rediscover the gift of faith so that at Easter we can sincerely reaffirm our baptismal promises to reject sin and the attraction of evil, and to profess our faith in God and in the Church.
The elements of a good Lenten observance remain the same: repentance of our sins by making a good and complete confession; forgiveness of those who have harmed or offended us; sincere efforts to pray better and more often; a resolve to deny ourselves, to forego wants and to manifest our need for God and his mercy; and a commitment to serve those in need, including some form of hands-on charity.
Our faith becomes more focused and alive when we pray, repent and extend ourselves in charity. We can then better recognize how much God loves us. We come to see Jesus not merely as a figure of history, but as alive and real, as the most important person in our lives. We grasp that he lived and died for our sake, because he loves us deeply and personally.
As the gift of faith comes alive and expands, we can never be nonchalant about coming to Mass. After all, the sacrament of faith, baptism, continually leads us to the sacrament of charity, the Eucharist.
THE WITNESS OF CHARITY
In his letter introducing the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict said, “Only through believing, then, does faith grow and become stronger; there is no other possibility for possessing certitude with regard to one’s life apart from self-abandonment, in a continuous crescendo, into the hands of a love that seems to grow constantly because it has its origin in God.”
Once we have fallen in love with God through faith, then we will want to share the truth of his love and the love of his truth with those around us, including family members and friends who no longer practice the faith and those who seem to have no religious faith at all. The greatest act of charity we can offer others is to share with them the living Word of God to help them discover the gift of faith that opens them up to the love of God in their lives.
We help make the faith credible to others when they can see we are responding to God’s love by leading lives of charity. This is why prayer and study of the faith combined with self-denial and service are so important. We engage in these activities through the grace of God so that our hearts will be expanded, so that we will believe and love more sincerely, and so that we can share the Gospel with others more forthrightly.
Charity, of course, is the first principle of the Knights of Columbus. Membership in the Order offers innumerable opportunities for men and their families to strengthen their faith and serve those in need. We grow together in friendship with the Lord through our fraternity, and this friendship is lived and cultivated by our practice of charity.
May this Lent, amid the Year of Faith, be a most fruitful season of grace for each of you and your families.