HOMILY/REFLECTION FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT
TOPIC: PREPARING FOR LENT
Gospel: Mk 1:12-15
Message # 306: “The Fast which I Ask of You”
1. The Marian Message
a) The Blessed Mother explains the real meaning of fasting. She mentions four kinds of fasting which we should practice if we truly want to “walk along the road of penance and mortification” (letter a). These are bodily fast, spiritual fast, fast of the heart, and fast of the soul.
b) Bodily fast is necessary to mortify the senses (letter b). There are five senses of our body. They are the entry points of temptations to pleasure and concupiscible appetites. They are the usual avenues for impurity and harmful vices such as pornography, drugs and immorality fueled by the means of social communications like the movies and television (letter c). Bodily fast is meant to put a stop to the “mad quest for pleasure” (letter d).
c) Spiritual fast consists of “a fast of the mind” (letter e). This means rejecting all kinds of ideologies and erroneous teachings (letter g). This will keep our minds from harmful errors, lies and deceptions of the devil. In order to do this, we should focus on the teachings of Jesus in the Scriptures and strive to always search for the truths of our Christian faith, the food that gives us everlasting life (letter f).
d) Fast of the heart means controlling our desires and emotions which lead us to “inordinate attachment to yourselves, to goods and to creatures” (letter h). Egoism, pride, and selfishness are very dangerous to the soul. Desire and obsession for money and material goods make the heart of a person calloused and insensitive to the needs of the poor. And attachment to creatures, such as persons, pets, cars and properties always lead us away from God (letter i). We must remember the first and the greatest commandment: “Love God with all your mind, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
e) Fast of the soul is “by keeping it far from any sin, even the least” (letter f). Mortal sin should be avoided at all costs as the greatest evil. Venial sins, if not confessed, can lead to greater sins. Hence, regular examination of conscience is necessary, and going to confession frequently should be seriously done. The Blessed Mother also urges us to “flee from the easy occasions of sin. For this, I ask you to close your eyes and ears to television and to the cinema, in order to preserve your soul in the light of purity and of grace” (letter k). Then the soul which undergoes this kind of fasting will be greatly “nourished by the life of grace and by the light of God.”
2. Introductory Notes
a) The word Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxons who called the month of March as “lencten monath” because in this month, the days noticeably lengthen. Since most of this season of fasting and sacrifice falls in March, it was called “Lencten Faesten” or Lent. It begins on Ash Wednesday, and the culminating climax is the Holy Week, especially the Paschal Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Lent ends on the Resurrection of our Lord).
b) Lent is called “Cuaresma” since it consists of 40 days. The number 40 is biblically symbolic and meaningful since it occurs in very important events in the History of Salvation: the people of Israel journeyed for 40 years in the desert before they reached the Promised Land; Abraham spent 40 days and nights on his way to Mt. Horeb to offer in sacrifice his own son Isaac; Moses was with God on Mount Sinai for 40 days before bringing down the tablets of the Ten Commandments; Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 days and nights in the desert before he began his public ministry; Jesus spent 40 days more after his resurrection before he finally ascended to the Father.
c) The season of Lent has a twofold character: first, it recalls baptism or prepares for it; second, it stresses a penitential spirit. Lent has been known as the Serious Season. Though at times it connotes a negative meaning, it is, however, very positive. This is the season when we are reminded of who we really are. That is why Baptism takes center stage. Either we prepare somebody for adult Baptism, or we ourselves recalls our own Baptism, especially the vows we made, viz., a) rejecting sin and Satan and b) professing our faith in Christ Jesus. That is why Lent stresses a penitential spirit. Realizing that we have often been unfaithful to our baptismal promises, we express our sorrow for sins and ask the Lord for forgiveness and mercy. This is the overriding spirit of Lent, which is the reason why it is called the Serious Season. Nevertheless, this is the season when the heavens are rejoicing. The reason is obvious: those who have gone astray due to sin are finding their way back to the loving arms of the Father through repentance, conversion and the sacrament of Confession. It should be borne in mind that the message and spirit of Lent should not just be something seasonal, but throughout the entire life of every Christian. Conversion is a lifetime process since we have to respond to the challenge of Jesus: “Be perfect as the Father in heaven is perfect.” There is no end to our conversion and renewal. It is a continuing process until we reach the fullness of perfection in the presence of God.
d) The Church, according to biblical tradition, recommends three works during this season: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We are encouraged to seriously find time for more intense prayer. It is this time of year that we are told to slow down with our worldly preoccupations in order to have time to pause and focus our attention on our eternal destiny. More time for prayer should be devoted during these days. It becomes more effective when it is accompanied by sacrifices such as fasting and abstinence. Fasting is still highly recommended by the Church since it helps us in our spiritual life: it reminds us of the temporary state of worldly realities; it helps us develop self-mastery and discipline; it helps us experience the pain of hunger so that we can also feel the sufferings of the poor and the hungry, and thereby be more compassionate to them; and it helps us purify our intentions and motivations through sacrifice and self-denial. And finally, prayer and fasting (sacrifice) become more fruitful and meaningful if we learn to reach out to those in need. The term “almsgiving” stands for all kinds of corporal acts of mercy. It is our concrete response to the horizontal dimension of the commandment of love.
e) The Days of Penance: The entire Season of Lent and all Fridays of the year are days of penance (can 1250). “On these days, Christ’s faithful are in a special manner to devote themselves to prayer, to engage in works of piety and charity and to deny themselves, by fulfilling their obligations more faithfully and especially by observing the fast and abstinence which the following canons prescribe” (can. 1249).
During these days, the faithful are encouraged to do some acts of sacrifice and self-denial in reparation for their own sins and those of mankind. Abstinence and Fasting are the most common traditional (since the time of the early Christians) practices.
Abstinence means no eating of meat, “or from some other food as determined by the Bishops’ Conference is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday” (can 1251). “The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year” (can. 1252). This means those who have already celebrated their 14th birthday until the rest of their lives.
Fasting in its strict sense means no food intake, except water and medicine. But the more practical and reasonable observance of fasting is to take only one full meal in one day. The other two meals should not be equal to one full meal. The important thing is the spirit of sacrifice. The law of fasting covers those who have attained the age of majority until the beginning of their 60th year (can 1252). The age of majority means 18 years old (can 97 § 1). This obligation ceases after the celebration of the 59th birthday. Those who are sick are exempted from the obligation of fasting. The days of fasting are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (can 1251).
Fasting and abstinence are not the only ways of self-denial. One can do many other ways of sacrifice. The idea is that the thing we enjoy doing but is not really necessary in our life can be sacrificed. This is very clear in the case of harmful vices and other non-essential activities and hobbies. Examples of these are smoking, drinking alcohol and soft drinks, gambling, idle surfing in the internet, watching movies and TV telenovelas , gossiping, reading romantic novels, many others. Refraining from any or all of these activities are forms of self-denial which can ultimately help us improve our physical and spiritual health.
f) The Church frowns upon the practice of harming one’s body as a form of sacrifice. We see this in the practice of self-flagellation and even crucifixion. Panata daw! These are nonsense, and even run counter to the Gospel teachings. The body is God’s creation. It is not bad. It should not be punished. In fact, St. Paul said it is the “Temple of the Holy Spirit.” That is why harmful vices have to be avoided in order to maintain the health of the body. Harming one’s body is a grave sin, such as mutilation, castration, tubal ligation and vasectomy. Tampering with the human body, particularly those motivated by pride and vainglory, such as cosmetic plastic surgery is also sinful.
3. The Sunday Gospel
a) The Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent coming from St. Mark is very brief. It is about the temptation of Jesus. But unlike the other Gospels of Matthew and Luke, the version of St. Mark does not mention the three temptations. It should be noted that the Gospel of Mark is the shortest, being the first one written.
b) Temptation – this word comes the Latin noun “temptatio”, derived from the verb “temptare” (test, handle, try). Temptation is not in itself sin. Sin comes in only when we succumb to temptation; and also when we expose ourselves unnecessarily to temptation. As the meaning of the word connotes, temptation is a way of testing the strength of a person. And a test is not something bad. Ultimately, it benefits the person tested. As for instance, in the school, the teacher gives a test to his students, not to make life difficult for them, but so that he may know how much they have learned and what still needs to be improved in the learning process. So the test ultimately benefits the students. Jesus was “tempted by Satan.” The name Satan means Adversary. His main activity and mission is to tempt and lure mankind to sin. Jesus subjected himself to Satan’s temptations for two main reasons: first, to show that he is one with humanity, that he experienced every aspect of human life, including that of temptations; he was also tested in every way. By undergoing these temptations, he has clearly shown that he is, indeed, true man. And second, to show that, though he was tested, he remained strong and victorious over all the power and machinations of the devil; this gives us inspiration and hope in our daily struggles against temptations and against the evil one.
c) Jesus “remained in the desert for forty days.” The desert is also called wasteland. It is symbolic of the world after the destruction of its original beauty and justice due to the sin of Adam and Eve. It is also an allusion to the forty days and nights of flood during the time of Noah, when everything on earth was turned into a wasteland. But the mere fact that Jesus stayed in the desert or wasteland for forty days and nights is telling us that his coming ushers in a new creation.
d) This is the message of the statement that Jesus “was among wild beasts.” It connotes the original harmony of man with the rest of creation before the Fall. This harmony was lost after the original sin. This new era brought about by Jesus is characterized by total unity and harmony in the world that even man and beasts live together, and the swords and spears are converted into plows and pruning hooks (Is 11:6-9; 65:17-25; Hos 2:18).
e) What did Jesus do in the desert? Though not mentioned by St. Mark, the other evangelists said that Jesus prayed and fasted. Due to his fasting and self-denial, he was physically weak, but “angels ministered to him.” Spiritually, he was strong, for he had full control over his entire self. That is why he was able to repel immediately all the temptations and wiles of the Tempter. This is one of the major benefits of fasting and self-denial. While we are in this world, we will encounter a lot of temptations and deceptions by the Evil One. But if we just find enough time and attention to pray and do some sacrifices and self-denial, we will be strong to overcome over all these. This is the main purpose of the Season of Lent. It helps us have sincere repentance of our sins and resolve to reject sin at all times, and through more prayer and sacrifices, to strengthen us in our struggle against evil and sin. May we not waste this very fruitful and meaningful season of Lent. Prayer, fasting, abstinence and other forms of self-denial, as well as good works will surely make Lent truly helpful for our spiritual growth and maturity.
f) Lent is the season of repentance and conversion. But two points need to be stressed. First, repentance and conversion are not the initiative of man. These are graces from God. We have to pray and ask God to give us these graces. Second, the call to repentance and conversion are not only during the season of Lent. These are not seasonal events. Rather, these are the constant call of God to man, and man’s lifetime concern and challenge. After all, Jesus said: “Be perfect (holy) as the Father in heaven is perfect (holy).”
Recite the Act of Contrition
Sing “Panginoon, maawa ka!”
GUIDE QUESTIONS FOR SHARING IN THE B.E.C.
1. Ang pagdarasal, pag-aayuno at pagkakawanggawa ay mga gawain na binanggit ni Hesus sa Ebanghelyo ng nakaraang Miyerkules ng Abo. Ang mga ito ay masidhing iminumungkahi ng Inang Simbahan na gawin sa Kuwaresma. Alin sa mga ito ang gusto kong gawin? Ano naman ang hindi ko gusto?
2. Ano ang binabalak mong gawin ngayong taon na ito – sa sariling pamilya at sa BEC – para maging mabunga ang Kuwaresma ngayong taon?
3. Magpalitan ng kuro-kuro tungkol sa mga pag- aayuno (fasting) na mainam isagawa batay sa sinabi sa mensahe ng Mahal na Ina.