Catholics can make the most of this time of unchosen Lenten sacrifices by seasoning them with gratitude.
“Maybe this year, our penance, our observance of Lent, should focus on how we bear all of these penances God is already giving us,” Bishop W. Shawn McKnight stated on Ash Wednesday.
“Are we always complaining? That’s the opposite of gratitude,” he said. “Maybe we need to spend this season opening our hearts up more, expanding them such that they can be more grateful as we approach the beautiful season of Easter.”
Bishop McKnight offered noon Mass in the chapel of the Alphonse J. Schwartze Memorial Catholic Center in Jefferson City.
He spoke in his homily of the correlation between the traditional Lenten pillars of prayer, fasting and almsgiving and the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.
“Prayer is related to hope,” he said, “because when you pray, you build up hope.”
He emphasized that people don’t pray to change God.
“Rather, prayer changes us!” he said. “It expands our heart and helps make Lent a season of hope.”
He said it’s easy to see the relationship between almsgiving and the theological virtue of charity.
“What a great practice it is for us to give not just out of our surplus but out of what we’re giving up that we might otherwise spend money on, and having that go to the poor or to charity in some way,” he said.
Finally, fasting and faith are closely related.
“Depriving yourself of what you have a natural right to, like a good meal or desserts that you really like — giving that up takes faith!” said Bishop McKnight.
“It’s one thing to think about things and sort of adhere to them,” he noted. “But to really practice it, to bring it down to the concrete, to deny your very body something that it might have a natural right to, that certainly requires faith.”
He then called to mind the relationship between those Lenten pillars and the familiar “stewardship triumvirate” of time, talent and treasure.
He noted that prayer requires a deliberate investment of time and energy in order to grow deeper in relationship with the Lord.
Prayer and fasting require discipline, “wisely making use of the gifts that God has given us, not just for our personal benefit or pleasure but also to share with others in need,” he said.
Accordingly, those who focus their God-given ability to fast and abstain are better able to make a prayerful gift of treasure to God for the sake of others.
“Being a good steward involves all three,” the bishop asserted.
He acknowledged that people are embarking on a different kind of Lent, with a combination of pandemic protocols and severe weather.
A proper Lenten attitude can make all the difference.
“This Season of Lent is about expanding our hearts to encompass more of others and especially God,” the bishop noted. “But what if we’re stuck in a mindset of ‘What am I being deprived of? What is being taken from me? What is rightfully mine?’”
He encouraged everyone to choose to bear the burdens bestowed by God and others with grace and gratitude.
“That alone would go a long way toward making this Season of Lent a season of hope,” he said.