Q: Why is the Catholic faith so strict about Lent?
A: This is a very timely question for next month we will begin the Lenten season with Ash Wednesday. Our faith teaches us that the season of Lent is meant to be the primary penitential season, for we imitate our Lord Jesus who spent 40 days in the desert in fasting and prayer. We do the same with our Lenten sacrificial practices.
For one, we fast and abstain on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The remaining Fridays in Lent we refrain from eating meat (that is called abstaining) and we embrace penitential practices, Lenten sacrifice or sacrifices which are a reminder of how much we need Jesus. Whether or not you give up Doritos for Lent (now you know one of my childhood penances), or pick a time each week in which you assist our brothers and sisters in need (that would be a more adult practice, unless perhaps it is done as a family), these moments of sacrifice provide us a greater awareness of how much Jesus sacrificed for you and me to have eternal life.
Our Catholic faith also reminds us that the Lenten season is a “climb of the Easter Mountain,” of which you and I realize to attain any worthwhile goal requires great sacrifice. Lent is meant to be a pilgrimage with Jesus and the rules and expectations in this season are meant to give our attention to our Lord Jesus who loves us more than you can imagine.
Q: How do we know that our faith is true in every way?
A: This is a good follow-up question to the first one. Our faith is a gift; namely, we did not invent the Catholic Church, nor did the Creed we profess find its roots in some medieval texts; no, it is Jesus Christ himself who gave us the Christian faith and it all began with Jesus sharing his Holy Spirit with the Apostles. Jesus Christ, at the beginning of his public ministry, declared that “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” He did not say that one version of the kingdom of God was at hand, but that THE Kingdom of God was at hand. In other words, our Catholic Faith is not a human invention but divinely willed by God.
You may ask then why do we have so many religions in the world? It seems that has been the case for all of human history, but at one point God intervened in humanity and gave us Abraham and the Jewish faith and finally he gave us his only son Jesus Christ and thus began Christianity among the human race.
We are profoundly aware that there are many truths that we share with other religions as well, such as there being one God or, with Christian religions, that Jesus Christ is the son of God. It seems to me that we are easily tempted to insulate ourselves from others when our faith is meant by its very nature to be declared and shared, even if there are some truths in our faith that others do not share with us. At least we can begin with many of our non-Catholic brothers and sisters that there is a God who cares for each and every one of us.
Q: Why does the Pope have so many clothes and vestments since so many people in the world are poor?
A: When we watch the television or Internet programs we can get the impression that the Pope is a billionaire and has the finest of everything, when in fact the Pope possesses very few worldly possessions. For one, you do recognize his beautiful white cassock, which, of course, comes in one color (yes, that was meant to be humorous). As for other possessions, the Holy Father has a 30-year-old Renault with 186,000 miles on it (donated to him) which of course is not a very expensive car but you may also notice that wherever Pope Francis travels he has a security detail. Being an international figure, it is necessary for there to be a security contingent with the Holy Father in order to keep him safe. We are all too familiar with the news programs that public figures can sometimes be in danger because of individuals with evil intentions.
Where the Pope lives in the Vatican actually is a small apartment and while the Pope has his own set of offices, they are in no way comparable to the megacorporations and governmental offices of our day.
Nevertheless, your point is well-made in that it seems that Pope Francis has many, many good things as portrayed by much of the social media. In fact, Pope Francis has very few possessions and the gifts that he has received from others he recently auctioned off with the proceeds to go to the poor.
Following up on the first two questions, Pope Francis demonstrates how you and I are to live our faith; namely to live it in a simple way and not filling our daily lives with distractions that keep us away from Jesus. Perhaps this approaching Lenten season would be an appropriate time for each one of us to go through our material possessions, like clothes, and decide if we have not used or worn a particular item in the past year, that maybe someone else might benefit better from that article of clothing or material object than you or me. That’s just a suggestion.
At this beginning of the year 2015 of Our Lord, may you and your family members find joy and consolation in the faith Jesus has so generously shared with us, one in a God who loves humanity dearly and will never leave us.
To “Ask the Bishop,” address questions to Joseph M. Taylor, catechetical consultant and youth ministry coordinator in the Diocese of Steubenville Office of Christian Formation and Schools, P.O. Box 969, Steubenville, OH 43952; email, firstname.lastname@example.org; or telephone, (740) 282-3631.