all indeed run, but only one receives the prize. So run that you may
have all noticed that the vestment color changed from green to
purple, and this morning there was no Glória.
Beginning with Vespers yesterday evening, we no longer hear the
joyous word, allelúia. Things
will be this way until the Masses of Holy Thursday and the Easter
Vigil. We have begun the season which the Church calls Septuagesima.
This is the two and a half week period that ends with Ash Wednesday
and the beginning of Lent.
one time, in the Eastern Churches, Saturdays were not observed as
fasting days, so the Great Lent had to begin a bit earlier than it
did at Rome. The practice spread to the West as well, with the
religious and the pious faithful voluntarily extending their Lenten
observance by beginning on this Sunday, or on the morrow, as Sundays
are not generally kept as fast days. None of this is obligatory, of
course, but Septuagesima ought to be kept as a time of serious
preparation for Lent.
“preparation for Lent,” I mean a number of things. For
modern people, the most important thing might well be a rearrangement
of their schedule. This is the time to think about not
making social arrangements that will conflict with the observance of
Lent. That might mean giving some attention to eating plans, so as
not to break the Lenten fast—or plans for entertainments, which
should be generally curtailed during the season. One ought to
schedule some time for attendance at the Lenten activities here in
church—as usual, we will have the Stations of the Cross and
Mass on Friday nights of Lent—and consider attending Mass some
other times during the Lenten weeks. Each of the Masses of the
season have their own unique Scripture readings, so attendance might
well boost your knowledge of the Scriptures. If at all possible,
plan on attending Mass on Ash Wednesday, and during the last three
days of Lent: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil.
should also be a time of reading good Catholic literature. Now is
the time to acquire what you will read. The lives of the saints can
be pretty inspirational, or perhaps a meditative book like The
Imitation of Christ, or something by one of the Carmelites like
Saint John of the Cross, or either Saint Theresa. The Bible is
always good. And a lot of things are available today on electronic
media that you can view or listen to instead of secular television or
radio. Our Website has a link to a number of excellent audio sermons
given by the Late Bishop Fulton J. Sheen.
of the important purposes of Lent is to develop self discipline—and
this is the time to plan for that. If you prove yourself capable of
refusing innocent pleasures, you are more likely to be able to resist
the not so innocent temptations that come by every once in a while.
The idea of “giving up something for Lent” follows just
this reasoning: If I give up candy, or cigarettes, or movies, or
sodas, or beer, or whatever, I build some self discipline that may
come in handy later on. I also demonstrate a willingness to join our
Lord in experiencing the privations of the world. If He could give
up His life for us, we certainly can leave the television turned off
for a few weeks!
is not about quitting smoking, but if the religious motive will help
doing that (or quitting some other bad habit), then feel free.
your own personal plan for observing Lent has become more important
in the modern world than ever before. In the earlier days of the
Church, Lent could be quite severe. It varied over the centuries,
but not too long ago there were Catholics who went through Lent
without meat, or eggs, or milk, or oil. I had the privilege of
knowing an old Ukrainian Catholic priest who spoke of people who kept
such a Lent—perhaps now only a little over a hundred years ago
(He was ordained priest in 1917, the year of the Russian
Revolution!). But many of our friends have other ideas. No doubt
you will find some who will claim that fasting and abstinence were
abolished by Vatican II—they are completely wrong, so
don't let them influence you. And, no doubt, you have friends and
associates with little or no religious influence in their lives. You
want to be prepared to explain that God is important to you, and that
practices of religion like attending Mass and observing Lent go along
with that importance in your life.
this morning's epistle sounded a little cryptic, Saint Paul was
referring to the migration of the Jewish people out of bondage in
Egypt, the Exodus. God forced the Egyptians to let His people leave
their slavery; He worked miracles that they might escape; He fed
them as they crossed the desert, manna and quail; He slaked their
thirst with water from a rock; He guided their journey “by day
in a pillar of a cloud, and by night in a pillar of fire.”
But many of them were ungrateful to God, and complained constantly,
fomenting rebellion against Moses and against God Himself. They
lamented leaving “the land of Egypt, when we sat over the
flesh pots, and ate bread to the full.”
“But with most of them God was not well pleased.”
problem with them was that they were “running in the race”
but they were looking for the wrong “crown.” God
intended the permanent crown of eternal salvation for them, but many
of them were striving to win a perishable crown of material comfort.
God had snatched them from Egypt so that, far from the idolatry of
Egypt, they could become holy—not so that they could become
wealthy in the promised land “flowing with milk and honey.”
Saint Paul is telling us that the traditional Catholic practice of
fasting and penance should make up part of everyone’s Lent. He
suggests that we should be like athletes training for a race or some
other sporting competition—only we are setting out to win a
spiritual prize, rather than an earthly prize that will be gone in a
we are here, a mere two and a half weeks before Lent. Now is the
time to prepare, and perhaps even to begin with some of the Lenten
practices you plan. Determine what you will do, obtain what you
need, and budget your time.
all indeed run, but only one receives the prize.”
That is not
exactly true in this context. God is like the generous
householder in the Gospel. He has a reward for all who work in His
vineyard. “So run that you may obtain it.” Prepare now,
and keep a good Lent!