A challenge from Francis

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | February 25, 2015

Pope asks us to look at Lenten sacrifice

He’s done it again. Pope Francis has found a way to challenge us as we shift into high gear on our Lenten journey.

Last Friday, Pope Francis used his homily during Mass at the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where he lives, to poke holes in some of our interpretations of Lenten practices.

While we might see ourselves as adhering to the rules of fasting and abstinence, maybe we’re just gliding along, like Fat Cat Catholics, without much to show in the way of sacrifice.

Fasting and abstinence are mainstays of the Lenten journey because they serve as reminders of what it means to suffer. In a small way, this might offer a better understanding of the sacrifice Jesus made for us on Good Friday. But when we put little effort into it, what value does it have?

“(Pope Francis) said Jesus wants from us a fasting that breaks the evil chains, frees those who are oppressed, clothes those who are naked and carries out justice,” said Vatican Radio. “This, he explained, is a true fasting, a fasting which is not just an outward appearance or observance but a fasting which comes from the heart.”

Pope Francis gave the example of abstaining from meat on Friday. “I can’t eat meat, but I’m going to have a nice plate of seafood, a real banquet,” said the pope, Catholic News Service reported.

Giving up steak for shrimp or lobster isn’t really much of a sacrifice. Friday fish fries are popular outings here in Wisconsin. They even support many charities. But if we are in the spirit of sacrifice, perhaps splitting a meal with someone or settling for a tuna casserole or another modest plate is a better option.

In his homily, Pope Francis also spoke about “using God as a cover for injustice,” reported Vatican Radio. Francis uses dialogue to make his points and here he talks about charity toward others.

“So many men and women have faith, but then divide the tablets of the law: … Do you practice charity? ‘Yes of course, I always send a check to the church.’ OK, that’s good. But at your home, within your own church, are you generous and are you fair with those who are your dependents — be they your children, your grandparents, your employees?

“You cannot make offerings to the church on the shoulders of the injustice that you practice towards your dependents. This is a very serious sin: using God as a cover for injustice,” he said.

Perhaps this means visiting an elderly parent who lives alone, or taking a grandparent to lunch, showing them that they are loved and not forgotten. It could also be a reminder to elected leaders to put the interests of constituents ahead of their political aspirations.

“Love of God and love of our neighbor is one and the same thing and if you want to show genuine and not just formal penance, you must show it before God and also towards your brothers and towards your neighbor,” said Pope Francis.

It looks like we’ve got more work to do in our prayer, fasting and almsgiving this Lent. Thanks a lot, Pope Francis.

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