Last week it was more challenging than most to come to Mass. Not only had we lost an hour in the night, but also many of you were carrying groceries to church – adding to already full hands, in many cases. I was deeply moved by this show of care and generosity for our brothers and sisters in need. It made for quite a pile there in the front of the church by Monday morning!
So let me thank you on behalf of those whom you are serving for your response to their need. Saint Bernadette offered 303 bags of food; 185 collected in the church, 118 collected in the school. That breaks down to 1644 canned goods, 784 boxed goods, and 135 containers of juice. That’s a goodly portion of Lenten giving.
Seeing you all give reminded me of a sermon by Saint Peter Chrysologus, one of the Church Fathers, bishop of Ravenna (Italy) in the early fifth century. I read it every year in the Divine Office during the third week of Lent, and am always struck by its candor and directness.
There are three things, my brethren, by which faith stands firm, devotion remains constant, and virtue endures. They are prayer, fasting and mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives. Prayer, mercy and fasting: these three are one, and they give life to each other.
Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others you open God’s ear to yourself.
Fasting bears no fruit unless it is watered by mercy. Fasting dries up when mercy dries up. Mercy is to fasting as rain is to earth. However much you may cultivate your heart, clear the soil of your nature, root out vices, sow virtues, if you do not release the springs of mercy, your fasting will bear no fruit.
When you fast, if your mercy is thin your harvest will be thin; when you fast, what you pour out in mercy overflows into your barn. Therefore, do not lose by saving, but gather in by scattering. Give to the poor, and you give to yourself. You will not be allowed to keep what you have refused to give to others.
These are powerful words that remind us that our Lenten practices are no empty ritual or cultural artifact, but a spiritual practice of vital importance to our health and survival. So much more than just giving up chocolate or television is the importance of giving. Our Archdiocesan church provided us with an organized way for our giving to have a real impact, thanks be to God. And Saint Bernadette gives – thank you.