Ash Wednesday

FPG--The Three Pilars of Lent

Joke: An Irishman moves into a countryside, walks into the pub and promptly orders three beers. The bartender raises his eyebrows, but serves the man three beers, which he drinks quietly at a table, alone and orders three more. As this continued every day the bartender asked him politely, "The folks around here are wondering why you always order three beers?" "It’s odd, isn't it?" The man replies, "You see, I have two brothers, and one went to America, and the other to Australia. We promised each other that we would always order an extra two beers whenever we drank." Then, one day, the man comes in and orders only two beers. As this continued for several days, the bartender approached him with tears in his eyes and said, "Folks around here, including me, first of all, want to offer our condolences to you for the death of your brother. You know-the two beers and all..." The man ponders this for a moment, and then replies with a broad smile, "You'll be happy to know that my two brothers are alive and well. I drink only two beers instead of three it’s just that I, myself, have decided to give up drinking for Lent. Now I am drinking for the other two."

What is FPG? It is not Fasting Plasma Glucose Test, but it is Fasting, Prayer and Almsgiving. Fasting Plasma Glucose Test is the fasting blood sugar test, a carbohydrate metabolism test which measures plasma, or blood, glucose levels after a fast; while Fasting, Prayer and Almsgiving is a test to reconcile with God and with one another during the forty days of Lent.

In all today’s readings, the Church puts together to help us focus on the three pillars of Lent: Fast, Pray, and Almsgiving. What is it important about fast, pray, and almsgiving during Lent? In today’s first reading, taken from the book of Joel, the Lord invites us, “Return to Him with our whole heart, rend our hearts, not our garments.” It is the heart, the intention of fast, pray and almsgiving, rather than the actions themselves. An unknown author once said, “Prayer, if it doesn’t move from the head to the heart, it would not be a prayer.” I would like to add a little further, “Prayer, Fast, and Almsgiving, if they do not move from the head to touch the heart and carry out into actions, they would not be prayer, fast and almsgiving.”

How do we pray then? When you pray, Saint Matthew repeats the teaching of the Lord Jesus saying, “Do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them.” Isn’t that the intention of praying to let others see that we are praying? Or it is a prayer with condition. I pray because I want people see me praying. A seminarian once asked his spiritual director, “Father, is it okay to smoke while praying?” “Of course not,” the priest responded. Another seminarian pulled him aside and said, “Our spiritual director is a Jesuit priest. You have to ask in a different way.” He came up to the spiritual director and asked, “Father, is it okay to pray while I’m smoking?” “Of course, yes.” He said. What is Prayer? “Prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition & of love, embracing both trial & joy” (CCC 2558).

What’s about fasting? In today’s Gospel, Matthew repeats the words of the Lord Jesus about fasting saying, “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting.” Once again, fasting with a condition, looks gloomy in appearance so others may see that we are fasting. We might give up cookies, soda, and other sweet tastes we love to help us on one hand, lose some weight; on the other hand, we fast to follow the Lord’s teaching during lent. These are all good, but it would be better if we use the money we save from not eating and drinking our favorite food and drink to help those in need, and see the need for our favorite food and drink as the need for God in our life. It’s not the gloomy appearance the Lord condemns, but the gloomy of the heart does not recognize the need for God in our life that’s what he condemned.

Almsgiving, Jesus taught his disciples saying, “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them.” How many times have we given help for others with no need of acknowledgement? During Lent, when we pray, fast, and give alms, we might want to ask ourselves, have we found ourselves the person Jesus Christ suffered during the forty days of fasting and praying in the desert? Has God really seen what have we done in secret? The answer to this questions lies in today’s second reading, taken from second letter of Saint Paul to Corinthians community, Saint Paul repeats what Christ said, “In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.”

The three pillars of Lenten season—Fast, Pray, and Almsgiving—are only brought to completion when they move from the head to the heart & carry out into actions. The question for us to meditate throughout this Lenten season is: Why does the Lord Jesus invite us to fast, to pray, and to give alms without others noticed? Why do we put ashes on our forehead in the form of a Cross on Ash Wednesday to begin our Lenten Season? Isn’t that fasting, praying and almsgiving during Lent to help us to reconcile with God on the vertical line of the cross and to reconcile with one another on that horizontal line of the cross? The Decision is yours.


Weekday Homilies 2019

Homilies by Fr. Joseph Thang Nguyen

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