(February 18, 2018)
Bottom line: To find hope when life hurts we need Jesus' help in setting boundaries.
For Lent I am using Finding Hope When Life Hurts. These Lenten reflections have been helping me in the aftermath of Sister Barbara's death. Fr. Sica's recommendation for the First Sunday of Lent at first seems surprising. He insists on the importance of boundaries. While Christian life means opening to others, it also requires boundaries. Jesus show that in his battle with with Satan. "By setting boundaries," says Fr. Sica, "he rendered the devil powerless."
I've experienced a struggle in the past weeks. People ask, "Father, how are you doing?" Well, one thing I notice - I become more easily irritated. Something I would have brushed off, now becomes a big deal. A couple of times I wake up angry: some small issue, maybe someone let me down and I'm seething inside. It seems strange. Here I am face to face with the hugest human reality - death - and yet I'm angry about something petty. I can understand why relationships break apart when a loved one dies. You'd think death would sober up a family, bring them together; instead they're at each others' throats, perhaps permanently divided.
I can appreciate why Fr. Sica says boundaries are necessary if we're not going to lose everything. We especially have to a draw a line between us and Satan. He wants to absorb you into his rage and destroy relationships, above all the relationship with God.
Jesus gives powerful weapons in this war against the Evil One. You know what I mean: prayer, fasting and giving. Jesus himself uses those weapons in the struggle against Satan. Most of us tend to pray and give, but we fall short on fasting. I ask you to join me in the Daniel Fast. In the bulletin you'll find a list of foods to avoid as well as those recommended. Join me on the next six Fridays and one other day (or more) during each week of Lent. After you've set aside the Daniel Fast days - according to your individual circumstances - after you've designated personal fast days, then pick one category of food to avoid every day until Easter, for example, sweets, fried foods, cheese or bread. Fasting and abstinence will strengthen your prayer. In fact, fasting itself becomes a prayer offered to God through Jesus.
Lent's a good time to experiment with other forms of fasting - like the internet, video games, social media or the news. For sure it's good to know about public events, especially if they impact our lives. But overindulging on news has negative effects like overeating. It can leave a person feeling angry and impotent. On the other hand we gain strength when we build up our relationships with each other and with God.
Fasting, prayer and giving unite us with one another - and with God. Ultimately we're talking about an act of confidence in a person, to be able to say, "Jesus, I trust in you." Next week we'll see a pivotal moment in the relationship with Jesus. Today we see that to find hope when life hurts we need Jesus' help in setting boundaries. Fr. Sica suggests giving yourself permission to put you first. "Choose a 'Me Day.'" he says, "Go to a coffee shop, order a latte and read a novel uninterrupted. Or come up with something uniquely you." Set boundaries in your life. Above all, ask Jesus help to set boundaries that will render the enemy powerless.
Lent began on Valentine's Day. This coincidence tells us to embrace the real meaning of love, not a feeling or an attraction, but a decision, a grace from God to sacrifice one's life for the other. It's good that Ash Wednesday coincided with Valentine's Day. Well, there's an even bigger coincidence: Lent will end on April First. As we'll see, the joke is on Satan. He's super intelligent - much more than any of us - but he lives in self-centered rage. Such a person is readily fooled. For sure he can trick you or me pretty easily. He can draw us into his rage. But then Satan himself is shown up by a man of self-surrender, a man who focused not on himself but on his Father. Stay tuned.
Jesus helps to set boundaries, especially to fence off the Evil One. After his 40 days of fasting and prayer he says: "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel." Amen.