Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Pre-Lent: Almsgiving - Homily for February 26

Readings for Sunday, February 26 / 8th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Isaiah 49:14-15  |  Psalm 62  |  1 Corinthians 4:1-5  |  Matthew 6:24-34

Ash Wednesday, just a few days away, we come to the end of the Lenten homily series, the pre-Lent. And so we have reflected in recent weeks on the aspect of fasting, reflected on prayer, and today we come to that invitation the Lord God gives to us of alms-giving, to continue to correct our hearts to show to show generosity, but even more so to instill within us trust in our God. 

At the college seminary, things were pretty easy as far as a life of discernment and prayer, relatively speaking, it wasn't too stressful because priesthood was still somewhere else, it was still far in the distance, it was a good at-least four years away at most. And so there was not a lot of pressure, but when I moved to the theology seminary in New Orleans, there was a whole different ball game. You would walk out the door and the guy next to you is already wearing a Roman collar and you referred to him as deacon. It is a different reality as it puts a whole lot more stress on the actual discernment of one's possible vocation to the priesthood. There was a lot more focus on the life of prayer and trying to trust in the Lord that He would in fact give me everything that I needed. And one of the things that helped me more times than I can even count was the statue of Our Lady over the entry way of the seminary itself. As you came in the front door through the parking lot, there was a statue of Our Lady, and at her feet a simple phrase, two words, "Deus Providebit", "God will provide." And over and over again as I walked into the seminary so many times, to look up and read those words, it was a consolation to me "God will provide." It was a reminder that my God loves me and if I actually believe the things that are said about Him, I ought to trust that He will provide for my needs, and not to be consumed with worrying about so many things, but rather simply to trust and do my best each day to follow after Him. Deus Providebit, God will provide." 

It's that sense that the Lord invites us to give alms. Really ultimately to trust in Him, that He will provide for us. Alms-giving comes in a variety of ways, but ultimately it's a recognition that it's something given to us that we are called to give to others. In our seminary course, we had a course on the spiritual life, and there was one reality that they described, the way of God's grace that comes to us, that has continued to resonate within my heart. And it's something that comes in very practical days through the course of the days, and grace was described in two separate ways. The Latin phrasing for one, gratia gratum faciens, which is grace that makes one graced, so it is grace that does something in the individual. And gratia gratis data, grace which is to be freely given. And so it was this recognition that God's grace that comes to us has one of two purposes: either it changes me or it's given to me to help change someone else. On a practical level, it comes out as things such as in the midst of my day when I am struggling with being impatient over something or I want something to happen faster, or I'm stuck in traffic, frustrated with any number of things, I can pray one of those little "arrow prayers" as they say it, those prayers that pierce the heavens and go to the heart of God, and I can simply say, "Lord, help me." And in that moment, God can hear my prayer and grant me the race to be patient in the particular moment, and if I am open to receiving the grace, it can change my heart. And in that particular place, I can become more patient - grace that makes me graced - something that changes my heart. But as we know, there are a number of gifts that are given to us not for me, but for others. Before my ordination to the diaconate, I spend a number of days praying various novenas to different saints and I was praying for certain spiritual gifts that I knew I would need if I was to be able to perform my ministry as a deacon and as a priest in any way, shape or form. I noticed a lot of deficiencies in myself and one of those was in public speaking and in preaching. And so, I prayed for the grace to preach. I don't know if you believe that I have the gift of preaching or not, but I think I do simply on account of the fact that when I was leading community prayer, I knew every single guy, we lived all in the same house, there weren't knew faces or anything else, and all I had to do was simply read out of a book and my hands would be shaking the whole time because I was so nervous. At my first Mass, I forgot the words of the sign of the Cross because my human nature was so freaked out about being in front of people. And so I knew if I was to do anything other than be a mumbling fool in the pulpit, that I would need God's grace. And so I prayed, and I believe it was received. 

But it's not for me. I don't stand up here and preach for myself. I preach to myself quite often, but I don't preach for myself. Rather, I preach that others might be able to hear, that the Gospel might be able to be spread and have some actual transforming power in the midst of our world. It's a grace that comes and is given to me simply, and only, to be given away, that others might be able to receive freely of the gift of God. And that's almsgiving - it's the way in which God gives to us some special gift, He makes us stewards as our second reading refers to today, and He invites us to be generous stewards of our gifts. Every single one of us has received a whole variety of gifts from the Lord our God. They come in different ways. They kind of break out into the three general categories of generosity with our time, generosity with our treasure/finances/world means, and generosity with our talents - the things we are good with essential. So God invites us to make use of these things to whatever extent we are able, to be able to continue to build up the Body of Christ because they are given to us for others, not for ourselves. Again, certainly that doesn't mean that every penny that we take in we have to give away and we just have to trust that someone will pay our light bill and someone else will pay our house note and someone else will pay the car note and insurance - obviously that's not the way it works. But it's not to make the things of this world our God. That's what the Lord speaks of in the Gospel - you can't serve God and mammon; mammon being possessions, things. Rather, we have to trust in the providence of God for us, that our God loves us, He knows what we need, and He will grant it to us. And so He invites us, with the gifts He bestows, to be generous. It's easy for us to say no when asked to be generous with our time. Most of us are pretty busy these days, whether it's things at work, at home, things we are doing with the church, whether it's kids, grandkids or other family obligations that takes us here, there and everywhere and it seems like we don't have a minute to stop, and Father asks us to stay a few minutes after Mass, which I'm going to ask y'all today, to stay a few minutes after Mass. And it's easy for us to go, "I got so many things," and to not give our time. Or to know we have other opportunities to grow in our faith or opportunities to serve someone else, not just in the church but in a larger community, and sometimes we can become stingy with out time, which try to hoard it all to our self, not to be able to give it up. We try to store it up for ourselves - the gift of our time. 

The Lord also bestows upon us many treasures, the things of the world. He gives us many gifts and they can be use for incredibly good things, but sometimes we place our security in the things of the world. I think that if my checking account is big enough, I don't have to worry about anything because I don't have to take care of myself. And as soon as I think I can take care of myself, the Lord usually quickly, and boldly, such is not the case. Remember the man in the Gospel, who having an abundance harvest. He looks out and says, "My barn isn't big enough to hold all this, so I'm going to tear down my barn and build an even bigger one." It doesn't work out for him because he tries to hoard it for himself, take for himself, which was not rightly his. Rather the Lord bestow it upon him, to bestow it in generosity to others. So also our talents, the things that we are good at. A lot of times we think that when we can't do anything for the church because we think we can't read in front of people, we can't do whatever we think we are supposed to be doing to be good Christians. But every single one of us has gifts that can build up the Christian community. If there is something you're good at, I can almost guarantee there is a way the Church can utilize that for the good of the community..To be willing to put ourselves at the service of God and the Church, yes but also in our community. But sometimes we can shrink back and say, you know someone else is better than me in that particular aspect, so I'm not going to do that. But we can tie our talents with our time, and go you know I really could do that, but I just don't have time these days, and then we shrink back. Again, it's not to be able to give wholly even to the detriment of our self, but rather to give generosity when we are able to because it teaches us to trust. 

The temptation often times is to control things for ourselves. We get it from our first parents. Adam and Eve, when Eve looked upon the fruit in the garden, she noticed there was three things about it, and one of them was that it was pleasing to the eyes and it was good. She wanted it for herself, and rather than trusting the Lord God would give her what was good and holy, she took it and she tried to keep it for herself. A similar is what the Lord experienced when we was tempted after his 40 days of fasting in the desert; of how the devil came to Him and took Him up the mountain to show Him all the kingdoms of the world, and he says, "All these things, I can give to you. I can give you the souls that you have come to die for, Jesus. All you have to do is bow down before me." And Jesus has the opportunity to take every soul for Himself right on the spot, and the emphasis is to take it. To be able to take rather than to receive. By being obedient to the Father, He now reigns glorious as the King of all the heavens and the earth, and all those souls that could have rightly been taken, have now been given, and even more. Our Lord God provides for us in the same. To the extent that we desire to take something, we will fall short. The desire that we are generosity in our giving and allow the Lord to provide for us, we will always be surprised because our Lord is never outdone in generosity. If we give one, the Lord gives a hundredfold He says, in this world and in the next. What a gift, to know of the love of our God. 

And so when those fears come into our heart in the course of our days and whatever way the Lord is inviting us in generosity, in so many ways we can do exactly as is said in the Gospel. We worry, we worry about tomorrow, we worry about what our food, our drink clothes, what about this, what about that, what if what if what if .... And we worry ourselves, and there is so much concern, and at the root of it all, is because I'm trying to provide for me rather than to let the Lord provide. And so when those moments of fear, reservation and concern come into or hearts, we don't only listen to the words of the Lord spoken to us the prophet Isaiah today. The Lord God says, "Can a mother forget her infant? Be without tenderness for the child of her womb." As crazy as that would seem to us, as if a mother can simply bare a child and forgot that it every happened, she would bore a child in her womb for nine full months and gave birth with joy. As crazy as that seems, the Lord God continues, "Even should she forget, I will never forgot you." I will never forget you. The Lord God knows your needs, He knows your longings, He knows everything. It's simply an invitation to come and to trust. 

Deus Providebit, God will provide. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Pre-Lent: Prayer - Homily for February 19

In the Holy Scriptures, the Lord God speaks to us, and the words of Jesus tell us that where a man's treasure is there also his heart will be. We know that anyone who has ever fallen in love, maybe someone who has ever born a child, and been able to hold that child - maybe a grandchild in their arms for the first time - the know the great joy the have in the other person. They don't have to consciously think about the other person, they just naturally do. One doesn't forget their child, one doesn't forget their beloved. And through the course of the day, they certainly come to mind in pleasant thoughts, and the desire or longing to be able to see them once again. We could say a similar thing of lesser greatness - simply maybe a new hobby, a new found joy, or a new toy. It brings us joy and a desire to be able to see it, enjoy it once again, take part in it once more when we are separated from it. Indeed those things are good and holy - our activities and treasures of this earth, but the most important about us Christians is that we are not people whose treasure is mainly on earth, but our treasure is in heaven. Our treasure is not just a thing, it's a person, and it's the Lord God Himself. The Lord God who comes to us and desires to be with us. Who loves us so much, He even took on our flesh, so we have a great gift in our God. Where man's treasure is, so also his heart will be. 

As such, following the same analogy, there is this reality of the Lord, as we go through the course of our day, it should be such that shouldn't have to consciously think of God if He surely is our treasure. Rather, He should simply come to mind naturally, organically, through the course of our day and the longing to see Him once more, to be with Him, united with Him in a moment of intimacy. That intimacy is what we call prayer. 

We can speak a thousand things on the topic of prayer. Indeed we can fill this chapel ten times over with the number of books that have been printed on the topic of what is prayer, how to do prayer, methods of prayer, spiritualities and so forth. While we can complicate it in so many ways, prayer is actually very simple, and the ones who describe it most simply and beautifully and most directly are the saints of God in the Church. The saints have described prayer as a simple conversation with the Lord. They have described it also as union with our God. St. John Vianney, one of my favorite quotes he references, "Our time of prayer is an overflow of paradise and a foretaste of heaven." A brief moment where we can be united to our God. Ultimately, it's a meeting place of the Bride and the Bridegroom. The Bride, the Church, each individual member comes to the Bridegroom of God to be united and look forward to the heavenly marriage feast that awaits us. 

All of these simply speak to an intimacy - to be willing to open our hearts to the Lord in His generosity in opening His to us. The fact that we can pray should bring us to our knees immediately because the God of creation, the God who made all things, who gave every blessing that we have, it would be enough just to know that He exists, it would be enough to know things about Him. But He goes even farther by letting Himself be known in a personal relationship. heart speaking to heart in a sense. We don't deserve it by any means, but our Lord gives it, and what a blessing. 

St. Augustine described the relationship with God, this time of prayer as a stretching of our hearts. He said in one of his homilies, "Our hearts are too small. They must be stretched." Can you imagine if God came to us one day and we were carrying a sack. And the Lord God said, "I have something I need to give to you." Immediately we would do everything in our power to make sure we can receive what God desires to give. We would take our sack and empty it of the earthly wears we have, whatever the earthly things we posses, and we would take our sack and stretch it as much as possible so it can receive as much as possible, in hopes of receiving what God desires to give. And what God desires to give is Himself - the infinite God, and so our hearts must be infinitely stretched. We must be a people of prayer, continually having recourse to our God. Certainly in the course of our day, calling to mind our Lord, lifting up what they call "the arrows of holiness," the short, little, pious prayers that we pray that pierce the heavens and pierce the heart of God with love, an arrow of love. We must also be a people who spend time in prayer, daily. To make that an absolute necessity. No one among us can go without food, or drink or air, and even less so can we go without God in prayer. So we must prayer. To be able to have the life of God within us. 

While we can complicate again in so many ways, it ultimately comes down to three central points, three essential aspects of prayer.

The first essential aspect of prayer is faith. We must trust in our God. It can be a temptation sometimes to treat God as if He is a magician or a genie, where we go up and say the right prayer, do the right thing, and ta-dah we get what we want. Thankfully God is not like that because every single one of us would be spoiled brats. And beyond that, sometimes your prayer and my prayer might conflict. I would love the church never to get about 55 degrees, some of y'all would hate that. Whose prayer wins? Good question. Theological debate ensues. It's the reality that our God is a Good Father. He doesn't just give us whatever we want, He gives us what is right, true, good and holy. He is a Father who cares for us. The Lord Jesus says to us, "What father among you when his son asks for a fish, would hand him a snake instead?" No one. And if your earthly father is that good, how much more your heavenly Father. And so, we approach our Lord with trust. We approach God our Father with the recognition that even though sometimes our prayers are not answered as we would like, ti seems that there is silence on the other end, we must trust and have faith that our God hears us, and He walks with us. Most importantly, He loves us and will provide for us. 

The second aspect of a life of prayer is honesty. We must be honest with our Lord in prayer. Every single one of us has that place in our house that we know we can store junk. When you got things laying around the house, and you have someone who calls and asks if they can come over real quick you say yeah give me five minutes. And we take those five minutes, we run around the house like a crazy person, grab everything that's a mess, and we throw it into that closet or room and we shove the door. My house looks great, doesn't it? Just don't go in that room, right there. That room is a tornado. We do it with God to in our prayer. We go to prayer, and as we are going to the chapel, Church or Mass, wherever we are going to encounter our Lord in prayer - We think we have to stuff all that bad stuff, the frustrations on my heart, maybe there is anger, suffering, sadness, depression .. I'm going to put those in that room or closet really quick and I'm going to go to prayer and say, Lord look how great my house is. Everything is nice and orderly. We go kneel in prayer and we place our hands in a very pious little angel pose - "Lord thank you for all the wonderful blessings. Life is so amazing. Thank you. Glory be to the Father and the Son and Holy Spirit ..." While inside in the depth of our hearts in that trashy room, we are screaming for God. Screaming. We must be honest in prayer. Because if we go before God in prayer and we give Him what we think He wants, what we think He wants, we are not praying We are lying. The Lord God put the things in our hearts there for a purpose. If there is sadness in our heart, it's for a reason. It's because our heart longs for something or it needs something, God desires to give it to us, He desires to respond. If there is suffering in our heart, anger, frustration, confusion, joy, exhilaration - all of these things - everything of the human heart, God put it there and He wants us to talk to Him about it. Whatever the emotion of the heart - if you are angry, be angry with God. There is some things I've brought to the chapel and made sure no one was around and I spoke to God, and I'm pretty sure if anybody was there they would've blushed because that's where my heart was that day. We need honesty in our prayer with the Lord because if we are honest with God, it gives Him the opportunity to actually deal with the mess of our life, rather than trying to make it appear very nice. 

The third piece is persistence. And this is the hardest part because it's easy for us to go and to trust initially, it's easy for us to go and to be honest with our Lord, but sometimes when things don't go as we desire or as we expect, as we think it should be, as prayer is supposed to be - it's easy for us to give up. We go, in the middle of our prayer, if God doesn't respond like we want, or if ti's quiet on the other end, we just stop. And so often we stop right on the threshold of when God is about to move. We are just about there where God wants to do something and can do something, and we shut the door. We must persist in prayer, day in and day out, every single day, without fail. It should become so much a part of our routine that if we don't have time for prayer, we should be hungry for it. None of us goes through the course of a whole day without eating or without realizing at some point that we are hungry. At some point, your stomach gurgles a bit to let you know that it needs something. It should be the same with our souls. To know that through the course of our day that if we don't spend time with our Lord, something in us should ache a bit to remind us to go to Him.

We have faith, honesty and perseverance. In the midst of all these things, we can do so many things in prayer. Again, tens of thousands of books we can have recourse to. But the most important thing, in the end, if we are struggling, we don't know what to do, if we don't know what to say, tell that to the Lord. When the disciples were struggling with their own prayer, they looked around and seeing the the disciples of John the Baptist, "Lord, John's teaching his disciples to pray. Teach us. What do we do? What do we say? How do we respond?" And He gave them a simple prayer: the Our Father. Not that we simply prayer the Our Father and be done with it, that's all we need to do. He gives us a model, a method of trust imploring each of these things to come before our Lord. Ultimately, if all else fails, if we have no idea of where we are going and what we are doing, there is one simply prayer you need to pray and then rest with the Lord. And that prayer is simply, "Lord, teach me how to pray."

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Pre-Lent: Fasting - Homily for February 12

Readings for Sunday, February 12 / 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Sirach 15:15-20  |  Psalm 119  |  1 Corinthians 2:6-10  |  Matthew 5:17-37

If you choose, you can keep the commandments. So says our first reading for us today. If you choose ... Last weekend we reflected on that reality the Lord invites us to be who we are called to be, to be who He created us to be, to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. To choose to be salt, to choose to be light, to choose to follow the commandments. Indeed, ultimately most of our Christian life comes down to our choices. Adam and Eve faced the particular choice that determined the rest of creation. Having received all the goodness of God and so many blessings, Adam and Eve did the one thing they were not supposed to do - to eat of the tree instead of the garden - the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Lord God said, "If you eat of that tree, you will die." And certainly the day comes, as we know, and the devil comes to tempt them saying, "Did God really say that you will die? Surely you will not die. It can't be that bad." The devil speaks into their ear and they hear it, they hear the voice of the evil one, and he comes up and it resonates in their hearts. Adam and Eve choose to break the commandment of God, they choose not to keep the Lord's will, and in doing so, they choose for all of humanity to be broken by sin. Every human heart, except those of Jesus and Mary, have since that time be plagued by the same struggle. St. Paul would describe it as the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life - the triple concupiscence. It was this recognition of this desire to obtain the things that are pleasurable in this world, to be able to take that which is not properly ours and to be able to exalt ourselves. All three of those lusts of the heart, Adam and Eve fell to, and so do we. The Church in her wisdom, just like a good mother, knows exactly how to respond to us with the proper remedy, and the remedy we know is - as we hear from the Lenten season that we hear each year - is prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The lust of the flesh, the desire to experience the pleasures of this world, to that the Church responds and invites us to fast, to give up something from time to time, and so to gain something even greater. The lust of the eyes, that desire to amass things for ourselves, an implicit lack of trust in the Lord God who says He will provide for us, for that, the Church invites us to almsgiving. Rather than to take to receive, the Church invites us to be generous in giving. And lastly, the pride of life, the desire to exalt ourselves, the Church responds and acknowledges the remedy to that is prayer, where we rely upon our God for everything, even the breath that we take next, comes as a gift from our God. So, the Church invites us to reflect on these: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. 

Often times when it comes to the Lenten season, we pick one and we use that for our Lenten practice for the year - we're going to abstain from sweets or from cokes or whatever we choose that year. Or maybe we decide this year we are going to focus on prayer and spend a little more time in prayer. Or maybe we want to be a little more generous this year, we are going to put some food in the food basket to be able to give to the food pantry. Or we are going to do the Rice Bowl program, or some of these other ways in which we can express our generosity and give alms to others and to the Lord. And all of those are good things, but the Church in her wisdom invites us not to pick one, but indeed to pick all three and to practice something of each of them throughout the course of the Lenten season and through the year.

When I was in the seminary, a few friends of mine had gone and run and half marathon, and I wanted in on the fun. I decided to train with them for the next one, and so we began going out on weekly runs, going three, four, five times a week and jog around the city. Ultimately, the race day came, we ran our race chugging along, and about mile 11 I started to notice my right foot was really hurting. About mile 12, I was limping along. By mile 13 I could barely walk on it, and I knew something was wrong. Come to find out the next day, I went to the doctor and found out I had a stress fracture that I kept running on, and it kept getting more and more broken. The doctor said that part of my problem was my training, saying that if I wanted to do this more than once, if I wanted to be more than just a one and done runner, if I wanted to be able run half marathons and marathons until I'm 40 and beyond, I needed to not just run - I needed to bike and swim. Train like a triathletes because your body will become more adaptive that way. Certainly you will be strengthened in different ways, but your body reacts differently. If you only do the same thing over and over, you can actually become weaker, and that's why you broke your foot. 

The Church in her wisdom invites us to the same. Can we pick one and be fruitful? Yes. But it''s even more fruitful, and in fact easier, if we do three. To pick something of each and to give ourselves to that in the Lord. We reflect today on the first of those - the gift of fasting. 

What is fasting? If we are fasting to be able to lose weight, we are not fasting, we are dieting. If we are fasting because we don't have any food, we're not fasting, we're starving. If we are fasting because we were not hungry, and so we're going to skip the meal, we're not fasting, we're just not hungry. Those are not fasting. Those are things that happen to be circumstances of the day taken upon us. Rather fasting is to intentionally choose to give up something so that we might be able to gain something even greater. Not a slimmer waist line, but a stronger spirit - and that's the gift of fasting. The reality of fasting is that it unites us to Jesus Christ. Whether it's fasting from a particular meals or going on a stricter regiment of things or if it's simply to abstain from meat or something of the sort. To do those things unites us to the Cross, and the cross has power. 

Remember the story of how Jesus goes and gives the disciples the charge to go forth and to prepare the way. He sends them out two by two ahead of him. They go out and come back to him, marveling at the things that have happened through their hands and their prayers. "Lord, people were healed. The deaf can hear on account of us. We cast out demons. It was incredible! You should've seen it." And they marveled at the ways God was working through them, powerful ways. And yet there came a day in which they came upon an individual who was possessed by a demon, and they prayed, and prayed and prayed, and the demon would not leave the individual. In exasperation, they go to the Lord, "We've done everything you've said. We've done everything that we know how to do. We've prayed every prayer that we can to free him from the demon. What are we missing?" And the Lord Jesus said to them, "This kind is only cast out by prayer and fasting." Prayer and fasting. Because again, fasting unites us to the cross, and the cross is the sign of victory of Christ from which the demons flee. They fly from the cross because they hate it. To the extent that we unite ourselves to the cross of Jesus, to the extent that we forsake even for a short time - to go without a single meal for the love of Jesus, to go without meat for a day for the love of Jesus, to go abstain or fast from technology for a day for love of Jesus - whatever it is for the love of Jesus, if we do those things and unite ourselves to Christ (not just as a way to get things in this word, to lose weight or whatever) but to use them as spiritual tools to rely upon God. To the extent that our flesh struggles a bit, our spirit grows stronger. It's the invitation to grow strong in the Holy Spirit, to fight the temptations of the evil one and to have him flee from us. 

It can be tempting to not fast, to be able to abstain from those things we ought to abstain. And yet the Lord invites us to do so joyfully and boldly. St. Peter in his frustration in the scriptures (we can always rely on Peter for an honest answer) - as he is going through the journey of discipleship with Christ, he is seeing that he has given up everything. He left his family behind, he left his business, they didn't have job insurance, he wasn't banking on anything else, and he looks at the Lord one day and says, "What I gonna get? If I give up these things, what's the payoff? What's the end goal? How do I come out? Do I just lose?" And the Lord Jesus assures him that whoever gives up anything for the sake of the kingdom, for the sake of the spread of the Gospel, will have so a hundredfold in this life and the next. We will be repaid in a way even greater than we can understand. More than we could've asked or taken for ourselves, the Lord will grant us these things freely and joyfully. 

Two days a year the Church requires us to fast - on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Regrettably one of those days has become a day in which has become a tradition to have a crawfish boil. If your family tradition is to have a crawfish boil on Good Friday - STOP. Wait two more days and celebrate Easter because to have 5 or 10 lbs of crawfish and a six pack of beer is not fasting. That's feasting. If you consider that a fast, then we really need to talk about your food regiment. Two days a year the Church requires us to fast. An extra five or six days the Church requires us to abstain from meat by law during the Lenten season as a strict reality. But also, the Church invites us to a little bit more, indeed requires it of us. Some of you may recall a time when the Church said we were not permitted to eat any Friday of the year. Every Friday was a day of abstaining from meat. During the course of liturgical changes and various other changes in our Catholic faith in the 60's and 70's, it seems that that practice was tossed out the window. But the reality is that it still applies, it's still the law the Church advises to us. Although we may not hear about it very much, it's still something that is actually enforced. What took place rather than having a universal thing that says every Catholic across the globe must abstain from meat on Fridays, it was said to be left to the individual conference of bishops in the land that you live. For us, the United Sated Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) back in the 70's got together and discussed the topic, prayed about it and said on Fridays we are still going to encourage Catholics to abstain from meat - every Friday. But if the occasion arises to where they do eat meat for some reason, they should take up another penance in its place, to offer some other practice - maybe to pray the rosary that day, spend some time in prayer or offer a Divine Mercy Chaplet, do an extra act of service for someone else, a corporal or spiritual work of mercy. 

That's still the expectation of bishops for us - that we would live a life of penance. We don't have to be walking around in a sack cloth and ashes with frowny faces all the time, indeed the Lord says quite the opposite. It's an invitation to continually, not for a short time, but every year, every week to unite ourselves to the cross of Jesus and giving up something, fasting or abstaining. Ultimately we know that in the end, in the big picture, it will be absolutely worth it because we will be able to see that place which no eye sees, to hear that place which no ear has heard, and to understand - what St. Paul tells us - the idea which has never even entered the human heart of the richness God has in store for us. 

My brothers and sisters, heaven awaits and for that we fast.