Friday, February 8, 2008

Cardinal Mahony's Lenten Message: On Giving Up and Giving In

By CARDINAL ROGER MAHONY
Archdiocese of Los Angeles

Some of us are still trying to catch our breath after the Christmas holidays. The glow of Epiphany's light still lingers. And yet it is time now to begin our Lenten journey. It seems too soon. Many of us will not live to see Ash Wednesday and Easter come this early again!

All too often we are inclined to think of Lent as a time of giving up some of the things we enjoy. During Lent we try to cut away the fat, to bring moderation to some of our excesses. In the minds of some, Lent is a period of strain, of flexing our spiritual muscles through acts of repentance. The black ashes that mark our foreheads on Ash Wednesday may even conjure up images of darkness.

Perhaps it is good that it comes so early this year, because Lent too is a season of light. It is the time of what Pope Benedict XVI (in Spe Salvi, his encyclical letter on Christian hope) calls "the great hope" for the new life we have been promised.

But the way to that new life involves a commitment to make changes in our lives, to reach out to others in acts of forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation. All our Lenten penance, our disciplines of prayer, our concrete practices of almsgiving, abstinence and fasting, have as their goal a true conversion of heart.

At this time in the life of our Local Church, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, it is crucial to recognize that we make this journey of conversion together. To journey together in hope, there must be healing and reconciliation through the forgiveness we can offer one another. Healing and reconciliation are the signs of hope that create a Lent that shimmers with the Light Who is Christ.

Lent is the time to break the cycle of negativity and resentment, of cynicism and hardness of heart that cause us to spiral into darkness and despair. It is a moment to lift up and offer strength to one another, rather than rip and tear one another apart. The cycle of negativity and resentment can only be broken by forgiveness and reconciliation. These alone help to heal and repair, bringing hope to what some see as an impossible situation.

Even as we encourage one another in our efforts to give up some of the things that we enjoy this Lent, it is important to recognize that these small sacrifices are aimed at a deeper, internal giving up of negative thinking, of brooding resentment, of intolerance for those who hold opinions different from ours. In addition to this deeper giving up, we are also called to give in to the gifts of the Spirit being offered to each one of us — love, peace, joy, forgiveness, tolerance, instead of hatred and revenge.

In the current presidential election campaign, each day we hear divisive rhetoric that gets louder and louder, more and more mean-spirited. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are to avoid discriminatory rhetoric and bring a perspective to these discussions that is deeply rooted in our convection that each and every human person has inherent dignity.

One particular Lenten discipline we might consider is to get involved in the Lenten Call to Action in support of the Justice for Immigrants Campaign. Throughout our Archdiocese, several parishes will hold Town Hall Meetings on Immigration. Our participation in these meetings would involve "giving up" some of our precious time as well as "giving in" to the grace being offered by learning more about the call of Jesus to welcome the stranger, those who are separated from their families, those who toil without benefit of many of the rights and protections so many of us take for granted.

This kind of giving up and giving in might serve as a reminder this Lent that we are all immigrants, away from our true home, looking forward to being welcomed to our true home, that place of blessed rest to which we look forward and move closer in our small and seemingly insignificant acts of giving up and giving in.

Lent and Easter are all about receiving hope and new life, and then bringing these gifts to others. And in bringing hope, we give to others what Jesus has given to us — freedom. This is the freedom to move on from that resentment and hatred which drive the wedge that divides us ever more deeply. Lent's light helps us climb up and out of negativity and divisiveness, breaking their hold on us through small gestures of forgiveness, healing and reconciliation.

This Lent is a time for coming up for new air, breathing again, having a taste of the eternal spring, hearing words of the welcome that awaits all of us immigrants to our true home.

CARDINAL ROGER MAHONY is archbishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Contact him at info@la-archdiocese.org.

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