Don’t lose sight of the finish line | Persons, places and things

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By Barb Arland-Fye
Editor

A passage from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians appeals to athletes and wanna-be athletes like me. I read it during Evening Prayer for the first Sunday of Lent and hope to use his sports metaphor to inspire me throughout Lent. “Athletes deny themselves all sorts of things. They do this to win a crown of leaves that withers, but we a crown that is imperishable” (1 Cor. 9:24-27).
This Lenten Tweet from Pope Francis also provides some inspiration for the journey: “Fasting, prayer and almsgiving, as preached by Jesus (cf. Mt 6:1-18), enable and express our conversion.”

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Another Tweet from the pope, even more compelling for me: “We hear an invitation that arises from God: ‘Return to me with all your heart’ (Joel 2:12). Lent is a journey of return to God.”

In a homily he gave for the first Sunday of Lent, Bishop Robert Barron focused on the three essential activities of Lent — prayer, fasting and almsgiving — and encouraged his listeners to practice these activities with greater intensity.

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Prayer, Bishop Barron says, “raises the mind and heart to God.” It is about cultivating a relationship, a friendship with God. The bishop recalled the late spiritual writer Father Thomas Merton’s response to someone who asked, “What is the best thing I can do to improve my life of prayer?” Father Merton said, “Take the time.”

How we pray during Lent is flexible, depending on our personalities and interests. Bishop Barron advises praying the rosary prayer, one of his favorites. “Get that rosary out during Lent and pray it every day. I guarantee you, your life will change,” he said.

He also encourages us to pray the Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Say it repeatedly. “It’s a great way of focusing our minds and hearts on the Lord.” Meditation is another form of prayer he recommended. Take time to reflect on the Gospel for that day. “Put yourself in the presence of God.”

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Bishop Barron also spends an uninterrupted hour in prayer in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament each morning, another practice he recommends. Attend Mass, daily if possible. His mom, a daily Mass goer during Lent, challenged him to join her when he was in the seventh grade. That practice had a profound effect on him.

Fasting, the second Lenten activity, is not intended to be a puritanical exercise, Bishop Barron said. Our naturally good desires for food, drink, pleasure and sex need to be disciplined so that the deeper hungers of the heart and the soul can emerge. The church’s basic requirements for fasting are not overly burdensome. Think of other desires that have become too dominant, such as social media, he said. For those who have an addiction to pornography, fast forever from that desire.

Giving alms, the third activity of Lent, is an opportunity to express love in a concrete way. Love, the greatest of the theological virtues, means, “To will the good of the other.” We do that in concrete ways by helping the poor, not just those in financial need. We ought to ask ourselves, “What am I doing in a concrete way to help someone?” A monetary gift is good, too, because it is a concrete sacrifice. Donate with intensity during Lent. Tithe, tip an extra 5 percent at the restaurant, or put loose change and bills in our Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowls. Perform spiritual or corporal works of mercy.

Bishop Barron emphasized, don’t get overwhelmed, but be intentional about prayer, fasting and almsgiving during Lent. I know that will help me not to lose sight of the finish line.

(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at arland-fye@davenportdiocese.org. View Bishop Barron’s homily at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezZxL5xoEq8).


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