Let's Be Generous To God


(Fr. Barsotti sent the homily he gave on Ash Wednesday as a circular letter for the Ember Days of Lent).
We have just entered the holiest period of the year (i.e., Lent) and it is important to be aware of this, which is not easy, but is nevertheless necessary. Until recently, life was ordered in such a way that there was always some relationship between solar time and liturgical time [in the Northern Hemisphere]. Nowadays, this relationship has disappeared, and everything [in religious life] has become more difficult [as a result]. It seems that the passage of time no longer has any relationship with the liturgical Mystery. Nothing helps us anymore to live our religious life in harmony with the sacramental nature of time.

Nevertheless, Christianity not only makes Christ present, it makes Him present in assuming the whole sacramental dimension of both cosmic and prophetic revelation. In a world in which nothing is sacred anymore, this sacramental economy seems to be lost. We live in a world in which God seems to be absent and we get the impression that our faithfulness to God depends entirely upon our effort of will. But this way our relationship with God becomes difficult, almost unnatural. For this reason, the majority of men today live as though the Mystery of God were completely foreign to them. God is absent both in man's modern times, and in the places of his journeying

In the past, places and time had a relationship with the Mystery and they somehow led man almost naturally to God. One might think of the "Ember Days" (the four tempora) at the beginning of each season; one might think, regarding sacred places, about churches and shrines built in the past. Nowadays the Mass is celebrated in any place without restriction. In the past, no one would have dreamed of celebrating Mass in the refectory of St. Francis Chapel (in central Florence) as we did last Sunday. And how easy it is to obtain permission to celebrate Mass in people's homes! Undoubtedly, all this has made us lose the sense of sacredness of some places. The sacred space is no longer viewed as such, as a sign and sacrament of God. Nowadays, not only can any place be used for the Mass, but even any table whatsoever can be used as an altar

We do not want to go against all this. We have nothing to contest, but we do wish to emphasize the grave difficulty of modern man in living a truly religious life. Nothing anymore calls man's attention to God through the sacramental nature of creation.

This is what we should be thinking of in our reflection about Lent. In the past, Lent was strongly felt as a sacred time! In the past, Lent was begun with almost complete participation of the Parish in the liturgical ceremony of Ash Wednesday. Today, hardly anyone participates

Fifty years ago, T.S. Eliot, perhaps the greatest poet of the 20th century, converted to Christianity, changing from a life of sin and debauchery to a Christian one. One of his first poems, which expresses his conversion, was entitled, Ash Wednesday. How meaningful was that day for the whole Christian community, while nowadays no one seems to realize when Ash Wednesday comes round. How necessary it is for us today to commit ourselves more and more, in a voluntary real effort in order to live a concrete daily mortification! We must be really committed to freeing ourselves from all those attachments... that hinder our response to God. We must regain our freedom. Lent is not lived as it should be without a real commitment on our part to purify our hearts and to free ourselves from all those attachments that make us slaves of so many little things.

I should like to make the following suggestion: it would be good if we could give up at least smoking, going to movies and watching television this Lent. In other words, it would be good to give up something that would require real mortification on our part.

Great mortification is not necessary. Great mortification is usually counter-productive because it might do no more than but nurture a certain secret pride, making us feel good about ourselves. Yet we should do whatever will require true sacrifice on our part. Only through mortification does the soul regain a certain amount of moral freedom enabling it to respond to God. We are tied to so many little things!

We have so many little cravings, so many imaginary needs we have created for ourselves, things we are so enslaved to! Too many unnecessary 'needs' enslave us, paralyze us and stop us moving ahead in our spiritual journey.

The saints succeeded in freeing themselves from everything and in their moral freedom they were able to respond to God with such surprising generosity as to make us think that we could never do what they have done. In reality, we fail because we have become slaves to our passions, which are many.

Let's learn how to free ourselves gradually from such things without damaging our health or compromising our inner peace. We have to do this if we are to give full meaning to Lent, to adhere fully and respond truly to Our Lord, and to do so not with words and beautiful sentiments, but with real, though humble, commitment.

I ask you to give up little things, but choose them in such a way that you are truly mortified by giving them up and you experience some pain in doing so. Once you have acquired complete moral freedom, you will no longer miss the things you have given up; in this case, you can resume using them, but you will have broken the habit of using them.

It is necessary that we become free again from the needs we created for ourselves, free from every passion. It is necessary that we make ourselves completely available to follow the promptings of God's grace; for if God asks us to do something, would we be so ready and willing to say "yes", calmly and without fuss?

If God should ask us to die as a martyr today, something He has and does ask of so many of our brethren, would we be willing to do this? If we were forced to live as some of our Christian brethren, imprisoned or tortured, or simply to live in poverty, or in a society that excludes us, what would our reaction be? We would have to put up with it, but would we be able to sanctify ourselves by accepting the terrible situation with love? Suffering alone is not enough. Everyone has to face suffering sooner or later. What is so special about the Christian is not that he is able to suffer for his faith, but that he can do so without any sentiment of hatred for those who make him suffer, and abandon himself to God's will in such a way that he doesn't lose his inner peace.

If we have not continued our journey towards the Lord and are content just to stay on the same level (perhaps a good level of Christian life, but one that lacks more and more in love), then the reason for this is that we are still attached to so many little things. The Lord is always asking something of us, and yet we are not willing and ready to respond, being so tied and attached to many things: we are attached to our well-being and our comfort and we won't give up anything. We are unable to say "yes" and it then happens that, motivated by pride, in order to avoid questioning our cowardliness, we seek to deceive ourselves by choosing to see our lives in a different light, which is not the true one; in this different light we appear better than we really are.

In fact, we give very little or nothing to the Lord. We have said many times before, that man is adaptable. It is true that we live a life that is a bit more austere than that of "others", but in the end, it doesn't cost us much. After years and years of living a certain lifestyle, giving up certain things is no longer a sacrifice for us. We miss only those things that we still love and which we are still attached to. It isn't mortifying ourselves to renounce that which we do not love. But we still need to free ourselves from lots of things. Only then can we be sure, guaranteed, that we really love the Lord.

Let's be generous to God! This is what I wanted to say to you regarding Lent and I wanted to point out that the sacramental character of this Liturgical time has not disappeared. There is a holy time in which God really comes to meet us more than usual and this holy time is precisely Lent. We must have faith in the sacramental character of time: Lent, which we are living now, is not the Ordinary time of a week ago. I need a faith awareness of this time in which God holds innumerable graces in store for me, for the Community and for the Church. This liturgical time must not pass in vain, because it is during this time, Lent, that God wishes to give us the grace of interior renewal. We must not be satisfied with who we are, we must seek continual conversion, a conversion that leads to continual rejuvenation of our will. There can be no conversion without an ever-renewed effort of the will. Fossilization, habit and inertia are characteristics of old age. Conversion demands spiritual youth which God alone can give.

Lent is linked to springtime: Lent renews not the fervour of our senses, which reawaken (in spring), but rather the determination of the will to follow Jesus up to Jerusalem, along that path which led him to the total gift of Himself in His Passion and Death.

There can be no charity without our dying to ourselves. It is precisely because we are closed in our selfishness (a consequence of sin) that the following law holds: the more we learn to die to ourselves, the more we are enabled to live in love. And this "dying to ourselves" is to be understood both in the physical and spiritual sense.

There are two ways to mortify ourselves: one, mortification of the body (e.g. fasting) and humility (which is mortification of the spirit). I mention mortification of the body meaning not to restrict it to the mere virtue of chastity. So again: mortification of the body and humility. We must today begin our journey these two ways. And walk in simplicity, doubting our own strength, but in awareness that God can sustain us and help us to keep faithful to our commitment: the commitment to live this holy Time of Lent as we should, and afterwards to live our whole life humbly following Christ.

May the Lord enlighten and inspire us all and may He sustain us to the end...

The Father
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