“If, however, you turn away your hearts and will not listen, but are led astray and adore and serve other gods, I tell you now that you will certainly perish…” Deut. 30:15-20

The night before Ash Wednesday I was pondering on what may carry the Catholic message or colors nowadays. Something that would be like a breath of fresh air in these times of world economic difficulties and catastrophes. My thoughts were on those days when Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa walked the earth. When they were around, their saintly presence and their quotable words easily made headlines and transcended many cultural and religious lines. Their messages carried much depth and universality that touched many hearts and said so much about our faith, Catholicism. It made a world of difference, much like as when St. Paul brought the Gospel to the Gentiles, making it such an all-embracing faith, a certain call to unity under one true God.

Nowadays, with all due respect to the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI, Catholicism seems to attract mostly negative comments in the press. Ireland’s recent trials about sexual abuses by clergy in the dioceses being covered up by Church authorities stayed in the world headlines for a long time. Or a US senator with pro-abortion leanings being denied communion in his diocese drew flack rather than understanding. Same with the excommunication of a Brazilian Catholic doctor for carrying out an emergency abortion which threatened the life of the mother.

Here in the Philippines, the usual tug of war with the press is felt tilted to one side when our bishops are being viewed as still being in the dark ages with their opposition to the Reproductive Health Bill. Makes you wonder if the Gospel as it was meant to be proclaimed to all peoples will still be placed on a lamp stand to be seen and desired by all.

Actually, it still is the same Gospel proclaimed. However, it is getting to be a more secular and materialistic world now more than ever which resists and even rejects the love of Jesus. This is why I feel the season of Lent is the breath of fresh air that I seek nowadays.

Fr. Francis Gustilo SDB in his Ash Wednesday homily admits that yes it is hard to pray to God because of his supernatural nature. But fasting is one such way we can reach God as fasting makes us small and insignificant like the dust that is placed on our foreheads, which he says, after so many thousands of years of man’s existence is already the crushed bones of our ancestors coming up to the surface, faceless and insignificant creatures now forgotten in time. We must know our place before God and realize that in our smallness we see his greatness and the importance of the message that he brings to us, and his promise of eternal life with him. Fasting helps us empty ourselves of the world, so more of God may come in.

And yet our God is a very reachable God, much more so when we enter through his wounds, through his suffering and passion. St. Thomas, after all, was not all wrong when he desired to place his hands in the side of Jesus and in his nail-scarred hands. Our very own sufferings in this world joined to the Lord’s passion enable us to encounter a genuine God. If we trust God with our trials like Jesus trusted the Father with his passion, then we will find God.

“Jesus said, ‘The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes and be killed and on the third day be raised.’ Then he said to all, ’If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself? Luke 9:22-25

TO GAIN THE WHOLE WORLD! I just heard Simon Cowell of American Idol fame, moments ago say on TV, ‘What I want is to be famous and rich, with emphasis on the latter!’ This is the battle-cry of the ‘Now Na!’ generation, the comfort zone, the luxury-class and the capitalist driven world. Can you see how much it goes against the grain of the Gospel? Makes you wonder why it is not a welcome message despite many people undergoing financial difficulties around the world.

Fasting? Seems like an out-of-tune song? Certainly not in God’s world. Remember, God is an unchanging person. Matthew 6:20 says” But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be.”

Fr. Francis’ parting shot was about the relevance of the culture of fasting today. The poor of our country are already fasting all day and all year round, abstaining from meat because of its high cost, unaffordable by their standards. The challenge was for us to skip one meal a day. Judge it by your own heart. Is fasting lost on you too? Where does your treasure lie?

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