Summary: The season we begin tomorrow is a time to draw near to God so that He can draw near to us.

Tuesday of the 7th Week in Course

Mardi Gras

Passions. We don’t hear much about that plural noun lately. Oh, the word “passion” turns up in seamy novels and videos, I suppose. And those of us for whom the Catholic religion, the word “passion” stirs up thoughts of the torture Jesus had to undergo on Good Friday. But when St. James uses the word “passions” in today’s Epistle, we may tend to overlook it or gloss it over as something not worth thinking about. But we must, and the younger we are, the more do we need to heed this warning. It’s especially true today, the last day of the bacchanal called Mardi Gras, when way too many people indulge their passions and end up hurting others instead of bringing joy and peace.

What does cause war, especially the conflicts that hit our news headlines? Way too often, at least in our city, somebody knifes or shoots or strangles somebody else because of a love affair gone south. The words “ex-husband” or “ex-boyfriend” seems to be present every time we hear about an assault or some other violent crime. Among the many problems associated with sexual expression outside marriage, and even sometimes in it, is the problem of breakups and the intense feelings that separation brings on. One person desires and no longer has, and wants to do harm to the person who does have. Time and money and other resources are squandered on selfish desires, instead of on developing a mature, self-giving and truly Christ-like relationship with others.

We insist that our students and children control their self-centered desires, their passions. So why don’t we apply that same standard to ourselves?

This day we look to the sober festival we celebrate tomorrow, Ash Wednesday. In that spirit we should recall that the better name for today is “Shrove Tuesday.” It is traditionally a day that folks confess their sins with a firm purpose of amendment, and receive absolution from a priest. The season we begin tomorrow is a time to draw near to God so that He can draw near to us. God always wants to be near us. We are the ones who put distance between ourselves and His love. We think we can be happier if God is out of reach. That’s the devil talking. We must resist the old worm. All his advice is worse than worthless. Whatever he suggests leads to our selfish indulgence, and unhappiness. Ultimately spiritual death.

As we plan our Lenten drawing near to God, we remember that there are three essential exercises in the season: prayer, self-denial and almsgiving. For prayer, the Church suggests lectio divina, reading of the Scriptures slowly and praying them down deep into our soul. The psalms and Gospels are especially good for that purpose, but books like the letter of St. James and those of St. John are also practical means to help us pray like Jesus and Mary.

For self-denial, there is fasting. Yes, changing the amount and quality of our food is one way to do that, but we must not harm our health in doing so. We might fast from harmless activities we enjoy. Perhaps cutting back on video games by 40 or 50% would be a good fast, as long as we devote the saved time to prayer, spiritual reading, or good works like building for Habitat.

Almsgiving is especially recommended–helping the poor. St. Vincent de Paul volunteers always need money and other resources to aid the struggling, to give them a hand-up and not just a hand-out. One can also help the poor by giving time, doing good for others.

In our Gospel today, St. Mark gives us the advice of Jesus as he makes His way to His Passover in Jerusalem. If we want to be great, we have to pray for and work toward a child-like attitude toward Jesus, so He may take us, too, in His arms. Not childish, surely, for children can act like the most selfish creatures on earth with their demands and whining. No, to be child-like is to be like Jesus, who always sought the will of God, His Father, and followed that will. We need each day to ask Jesus to tell us what His will for us may be, and to ask Him to give us the wisdom to recognize it, and the grace to accomplish it. Then we will become children of the Father, and worthy of the Easter to come, forty days from now and at the end of our days on earth.

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