Dearly Beloved in Christ,
Lent begins this week. Lent means two things: prayer and penance. Jesus warned His three disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” (Lk. 22:40). Penance — well that’s something else again. Fasting? Mortification? Self-denial? Those terms are out of fashion these days.
These days the operative mantra is, “If it feels good, do it!” However, the Bible presents fasting as something solemn and purposeful and holy: “Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast; gather the people…”. (Joel 2:15-16). And Jesus tells us: “Whenever you fast, do not look sad like the hypocrites … but when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matt. 6:16-18).
In the Bible, fasting and self-denial are intended to make us better people by leading us closer to God. They are meant to break open our sinful and deceitful hearts. The Psalmist says: “a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Ps. 50:17).
Our five sense faculties are incredible gifts from God and how difficult it is to live without them for any length of time. At the vision center did you ever have drops put in your eyes, and everything looked fuzzy after that? When you’re suffering from a cold, has your sense of taste or your sense of smell been impaired? How unpleasant an experience that can be. How about your sense of touch, have those fine motor skills that enable you to button your shirt or tie your shoes, ever deserted you for a period of time? Or your sense of hearing — has that begun to fail you with advancing years? Hearing aids can help, but they are only a poor substitute for the real thing.
Sometimes we have no control over our failing senses, and there is not much merit in that. We can “offer it up,” as they say, and that’s better than nothing. Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to say, “The only thing worse than suffering is wasted suffering.”
But Lent affords us the opportunity to voluntarily deprive ourselves of some of the same sense pleasures that we enjoy, just as a way of saying “thank you” to God for those tremendous gifts that we so easily take for granted. Little prayers of gratitude are so pleasing to our blessed Lord. Which “sense gift” or “gifts” will it be for you this Lent?
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Most Rev. James M. Moynihan
Bishop of Syracuse