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A Lent in imitation of St. Joseph, Protector of Christ

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Each Lent we devote ourselves to prayer, fasting and almsgiving in order to prepare for the renewal of our baptismal promises at Easter and to reflect upon times when we fell short of our obligation to live in virtue. This Lenten season provides the unique opportunity to do so, as Pope Francis proclaimed 2021 to be the Year of St. Joseph, the protector of Jesus. In this year, the church has called us to imitate St. Joseph’s virtues and zeal, and thus we receive abundant graces and encourage one another by our words and deeds.

Pope Francis highlights what it means to imitate St. Joseph, saying, “Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others!” (Homily, Solemnity of St. Joseph, 2013). Protecting Christ in our lives means being attentive to God, open to his presence and receptive to his plans. As we begin Lent, may we be attentive to the Son of God, himself present whenever the Scriptures are proclaimed in the church, announcing the divine plan: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mk 1:15).

Repentance begins with an acknowledgement of where we have gone wrong and seeking reconciliation with the Lord, most specifically in the sacrament of penance. I invite all in our diocese — whether you practice the Faith daily or have been away from the church for a while — to celebrate reconciliation without delay. In this sacrament, we express our sorrow for our sins and ask God to create within us a new heart, a heart more fully attentive and open to Christ. God invites us to work with him to place Christ back at the center of our lives so that he may shine forth in our words and deeds.

Our response is all the more urgent because turning away from God also damages the bond that unites us. How great is our need for unity in these times! Reconciliation heals that brokenness and also has “a revitalizing effect on the life of the Church which suffered from the sin of one of her members” (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1469). When one sins, the whole Body suffers, yet when one seeks forgiveness, the Body is refreshed. When we humbly acknowledge the suffering we have caused and ask for God’s mercy, we share in God’s work of caring for Christ’s Body, the church, because we are among her members.

Reconciled and reunited with Our Lord, we turn to the three Lenten practices and disciplines that orient our hearts to humility and prepare us for the Resurrection. The first discipline is prayer. Our church teaches that prayer is “the raising of one's mind and heart to God” and that “humility is the foundation of prayer” (Catechism, 2559). 

At the very least, I encourage you to begin and end each day with prayer. It is the perfect starting point for the day ahead, and by reflecting on all that occurred throughout our day in prayer, we know better what must change if we are to arise tomorrow in greater spiritual health than we did today. There are different ways in which you can listen to the voice of God in your life. Silence, which is so rare in our busy lives, is one of the most important. So often we are making too much noise to hear Our Lord speaking to us. Rest in silence and you will recognize his presence. Additionally, we must take time to sit and reflect upon sacred Scripture. The timeless truths of the Bible remind us of God’s eternal nature and the eternal reward those who devote their lives to him will receive. We must make a practice within our morning and evening prayer to read sacred Scripture and listen to the voice of Our Lord. 

Fasting, the second Lenten practice, requires the spiritual strength that comes from God alone and is predicated by a relationship with God in prayer. A stark reminder of our dependency on God, fasting is challenging because through it we experience our human frailty. Consider, for example, how hunger can make us quick to anger or be frustrated. This is why, through prayer and self-discipline, we strive to protect Christ’s presence as our sure spiritual foundation. Recalling that he was tempted by the Devil only after his 40-day fast in the desert, we turn to Christ because he knows intimately our human weakness, including the temptations that confront us in our weakness. 

True fasting then becomes a symbolic expression of our detachment from sin. What we fast from is not necessarily sinful. Symbolically, however, fasting shows that we are committed to keeping Christ at the center of our lives amid the needs and wants of this world. Through fasting we demonstrate our will not to be distracted, to remain focused on the face of Our Lord. Fasting expresses that we are committed to basing our life on his divine plan, not our own designs.

So, we come to the last of the Lenten practices: almsgiving. This year has been a time of heightened awareness of the importance of giving our time and treasure. The situations of those in need have become more desperate, many have suddenly found themselves dependent upon others, and others have been called to give more generously than ever before.

Through almsgiving, we work to protect others by providing the necessities of sustenance, housing and other assistance that are required for a secure and dignified life. Our 2021 diocesan Bishop’s Lenten Appeal, “Encourage One Another by Word and Deed,” is one important means for giving alms because it benefits more than 40 ministries and outreach programs right in our local communities. 

Acts of charity, as well as the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, complete our work to imitate St. Joseph this Lent: to “protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others!” 

Some may ask themselves the honest question: Where do I start? At times the spiritual disciplines of Lent might seem complicated. I encourage you to begin simply. Begin with silence. The most unique quality of silence is that it literally requires nothing of you. Start with time dedicated to silence, being truly present with the Lord and ready to hear his voice. From there go and obtain the grace offered in the sacrament of reconciliation. There is no better way to ready our heart for conversation with God than through a pure heart and a freed conscience. When you begin praying to Our Lord, ask for the intercession of Mary and Joseph. They know well the burdens of life and are perfect guides who will bring you closer to the Father in heaven.  

It is my hope and prayer that Our Lord Jesus will bless you and your families with his peace and abundant spiritual gifts throughout the sacred season of Lent and always. 

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021