Sunday, February 14, 2016

Lent 2016: Fast and Abstain for Mercy

As we enter in this Holy Season of Lent, I would like to share with you, my dear friends, a different way to look at sacrifices and Lenten resolutions. In general, people tend to have a very negative view of sacrifices. Perhaps this is due to the simple dictionary definition of sacrifice:

“the act of giving up something that you want to keep especially in order to get or do something else or to help someone: an act of killing a person or animal in a religious ceremony as an offering to please a god: a person or animal that is killed in a sacrifice” (www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sacrifice).

This negative view is expressed in the fact that sacrifice means for many some sort of surrender of something of value as means of preventing some evil; e.g., “I will give up candy for Lent because the Church says I must abstain and fast on Fridays lest I be condemned.”

In addition, there is the misinterpretation of the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: “But go and learn what this means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifices’” (Ps 50; Mt 9:13 quoting Hos 6:6). Most people ignore that the OT Covenant was centered on a liturgy whose central aspect of worship consisted in offering holocaust sacrifices to appease the wrath of God. We are talking about a system in which every year thousands of animals were slaughtered and, burnt to God as means of worship. In the NT Our Lord Jesus reproaches that those sacrifices amount for nothing if there is no love in the heart of the one doing the offering. In fact, with the advent of the New Covenant, liturgy radically changed its understanding and its ways for worshiping the Lord. No longer, there is need to sacrifice animals, neither to sprinkle the sacrificial blood unto the People of God, the Sanctuary and the Altar, in order to be purified and thus be rendered acceptable for worship. The Lord Jesus Christ revealed to us that the only sacrifice from pleasing to the Father in Heaven is the very own Sacrifice of His Only Begotten Son on the Ara Crucis.  

Perhaps the etymology of the word sacrifice may assist us to understand the novelty of Jesus’ teachings. Sacrifice in Latin is sacrificium, from sacer holy + facere to make; a sacrifice is to make something holy, and not just to prevent us from evil. There is nothing negative in Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary. He did not just give up his life to please his Father. On the contrary, Our Lord Jesus Christ embraced the Patibulum Crucis with the very essence of the power of his Agape Love: “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father” (Jn 10: 18). Sacrifices are then, things we do to sanctify other people and ourselves or to sanctify situations, or things important to us. What it is important is not so much what we offer, but the intention for which and in which we offer sacrifice.

During this year of Mercy, Papa Francisco invites us to live out the Corporal and Spiritual works of Mercy: The corporal works of mercy are as follows: To feed the hungry; to give drink to the thirsty; to clothe the naked; to harbor the harbourless; to visit the sick; to ransom the captive; and to bury the dead. And the spiritual works of mercy are:  to instruct the ignorant; to counsel the doubtful; to admonish sinners; to bear wrongs patiently; to forgive offences willingly; to comfort the afflicted; to pray for the living and the dead. Let us, particularly, do those as our Lenten sacrifices.

Nevertheless, I would like to invite you also to consider going an extra step in offering to Jesus that which you enjoy the most; that which, unfortunately, has trapped you in its nets, so that, without it, you feel very empty. I am talking about your phones and your tablets, your LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Facetime, WhatsApp, Skype and all the social networks available. Make them holy, that is sacrifice them, offer them up, so that in turn the Lord may increase in you the power of his Agape Love in order to  rise with Him on Easter Sunday. Please pass it on this Lent, let us fast and abstain for an increase of Love in our hearts … Jesus is waiting for you nailed onto the Cross, what are you going to do? He loved you first and now he is expecting your act of love in return, he is expecting you. Open you heart and love him back the way He loved you. Fast and Abstain for Mercy.

Fr. Randy Soto
Kenrick Seminary
Saint Louis, Mo
Lent 2016

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