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Mt 6:1-6, 16-18 –  Almsgiving, Prayer and Fasting
Ash Wednesday & Universal Day of Fasting and Abstinence


Today is Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday begins the great season of Lent, when we are invited to “return sincerely to the Lord our God with fasting prayer and mourning” (Jl  2:12) and to offer to God a sacrifice of a humble and contrite spirit.  It is the time of the year when we are reminded again that we are dust, and to dust we will return. On a more positive note, we are reminded “to turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”

Today is universal day of fasting and abstinence. Catholics all over the world are encouraged to pray, to fast and abstain, and to share to the poor and the needy. Simply put, to do penance. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in many and various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all on three forms, fasting, prayer and almsgiving (Cf. Tob 12:8; Mt 6:1-18), which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God and to others (CCC 1434).

What is penance? What does it mean to do penance? “Penance is concrete daily effort of a person, supported by God’s grace to lose his/her own life for Christ as the only means of gaining it; an effort to put off the old man and put on the new; an effort to overcome in oneself what is of the flesh in order that what is spiritual may prevail; it is a continual effort to rise from the thing of here below to things above, where Christ is. Penance is ,therefore, a conversion that passes from the heart to deeds to the Christian whole life” (JP, PR).


Penance such as prayer, fasting and almsgiving prepare us for the liturgical feast; they help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart (Cf. CIC, cann. 1249-1251; CCEO. Can. 882)

How do we make our penance fruitful and meaningful?

  • Let us do our penance out of personal conviction and in freedom. Let us guard ourselves of legal formalism and superficiality which the prophets had already denounced, pride and ostentations if one fasts “in order to be seen by men. It must be done in secret, with sincerity and voluntarily.
  • Let us fast, pray and share to the needy as our penance out of our love for God and neighbor. This is the greatest commandment. This is the summary of the all the laws of Moses and the teachings of the prophets. Nothing more, nothing less and nothing else.
  • “This rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread to the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked, and not turning your back on your own” (Is 58:6-8).
  • Penance finds its fulfillment, meaning and relevance only in the context of “Jesus call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, “sackcloth and ashes”, fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance (Cf. 2:12-13; Is. 1:16-17; Mt. 6;1-6; 16-18).

Interior repentance is a radical orientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our hearts, an end to sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of the spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of the heart) (Cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1676-1678; 1705; cf. Roman Catechism, II, V, 4).

Fasting, prayers and almsgiving are interconnected and complimentary. Fasting is the soul of prayer. Mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. So when you pray, fast; when you fast, show mercy.

Starting this Ash Wednesday as we begin the season of lent, strive to be humble and “return to God with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts not your garments, and return to the Lord  your God. For gracious and merciful is He, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment” (Jl 2:12-13).

“Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool” (Is. 1:18)

Picture: http://www.geocities.com/info_seminars/fasting.htm

Related Article:

Mark 2:1-12 – The Healing of the Paralytic
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sunday Gospel Reflection

Today’s gospel narrates to us  the cure of the paralytic who was brought on a mat by his four friends to Jesus. Since it was physically imposible for them to approach Jesus they went to the roof, made a hole in it where they could bring the paralytic down through the rope to where the Lord was teaching. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “My son, your sins are forgiven” (v. 5). This scandalized the Pharisees for it is only God who can forgive sins ((v. 8). In order to show them that He is indeed God and a Messiah who has the power  to forgive and to heal, he said to the paralytic :  “Stand up, pick up your mat and go home” (see v. 11).

What is something unusual about this incident is that most miracle stories in the gospel occur because of the faith of the one who is helped. Such was the case of the Canaanite woman, for example, or the blind Bartimaeus. In today’s Gospel story we seem to have a miracle occurring almost independently of the man being cured. His sins are forgiven and he is cured, not  because of his faith but because of the faith of his friends and their mediation. Let this story be a constant reminder for all of us of the validity and the power of the prayer of intercession.

Along with prayers of adoration, thanksgiving, contrition, there is also another prayer that exists and is effective, That prayer is the prayer of intercession. Prayer of intercession belongs to the prayer of petition. What ‘s the slight difference between the two? Wnen we are praying for ourselves that is prayer of petition. When we are prayer for others or requesting others to pray for us that is prayer of petition.

The Church teaches in her Catechism (CCC 2634) that “Intercession is a prayer of petition which leads us to pray as Jesus did. He is the one intercessor with the Father on behalf of all men especially sinners (cf. Rom 8:34; 1 Jn 2:1; Tim 2:5-8). He is “able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb 7:25). The Holy Spirit “himself intercedes for us…and intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” Rom 8:26-27).

In intercession, he who prays looks “not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others,” even to the point of praying for those who do him harm (Phil 2:4; cf. Acts 7:60; Lk 23:28, 34). The intercession of Christians recognized no boundaries: “for all men; for king and all who are in high positions,”  for persecutors, for the salvation of those who reject the gospel (1 Tim 2:1; cf. Rom 12:14; 10:1).

Indeed the prayer of intercession is valid, effective and praiseworthy.  Like Jesus, let us never fail to pray for others especially those who are in need of our prayers.  When we feel  unworthy or inadequate to pray let us request others to pray for us especially the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mediatrix of all graces, the Mother of Jesus and our Mother too.

Pray for peace and unity of the world, healing and reconciliation among nations, groups and individuals whose relationship is characterized by divisions and conflicts. Pray also for the conversion of sinners and for the sanctification and salvation of the whole humanity.

In particular, I exhort you to pray for the Church specially for the priests: “We are used to asking the priests to pray for us. In these trying times for them and for the Church as a whole, I am asking you to pray for them” (Lingayen-Dagupan  Archbishop Oscar Cruz).

Related Gospel Reflection:

by Fr. Jerry Orbos

    Mk 1:40-45 – The Cleansing of the Leper
    Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

    Leprosy, is a disease caused by the mycobacterium leprae bacteria, this kind of bacterium affects the body’s nervous system, concentrating on the cooler parts of the body. Affected areas are skin, eyes, and muscles in the hands and feet. There are two different initial reactions to the disease: Some people develop clearly defined pale skin patches, indicating the bacterium is isolated in one area. In more extreme cases where the patient has no resistance to the disease, there is very little definition between the patches and healthy skin. With this type of case, it is much more difficult to detect the disease in its very early stages. As the disease progresses, the symptoms only get worse. Numbness in hands and feet make the patient vulnerable to cuts and infections that cannot be felt. Stiffened muscles cause clawed hands. Loss of the blinking reflex leads to total blindness. In some cases amputation of fingers, an arm, or a leg is necessary.

    Ever since Biblical times, people have been fearful of leprosy. Most people think of leprosy as an ancient disease. but the harsh reality is that hundreds of thousands of people contract this devastating disease each year and millions more suffer from its terrible consequences. Some statistics presented by the World Health Organization make us reflect: At the beginning of 2005 the declared cases of leprosy in Africa were 47,596, in America 36,877, in Southeast Asia 186,182, in the Eastern Mediterranean 5,398, and in the West Pacific 10,010. Fortunately, according to the WHO, certain statistics exist that refer to a regression of this disease, at least according to the declared data: From 763,262 people suffering from leprosy in 2001 the figure fell to 407,791 in 2004.

    It has been said, that every two minutes, someone is told he or she has leprosy. Many think leprosy is a disease of past generations but in many regions, especially in areas of chronic poverty, leprosy continues to attack children, women, and men. People are being shamed, abandoned, rejected, and despised simply because their families and communities do not understand the disease. Many believe leprosy is a curse or punishment from the gods.

    It is hard for us today to imagine the awful condition of the leper in New Testament times. He was considered legally dead. But, worse, he was considered morally unclean. Forbidden to enter any walled city-lashed thirty-nine times if he did-he wandered, muffled to the eyes, crying ‘Unclean!’

    Under Jewish law, no one could greet him. Under the law, no one could approach within six feet of the leper-one hundred feet if the wind came from his direction. Any building he entered was considered defiled and had to be purified. The common practice was to throw stones at or run and hide from any leper who approached.

    Such was the man who came to Jesus. What compassion and greatness he must have sensed in the Master to break the law in this manner. And what was the response? Against all law and tradition, Jesus reached out and touched the leper and by His touch cleansed him of his filthiness. By His touch, to save His brother, Jesus descended lower than any man-exactly as He did, later, to save each of us.

    We are that leper, each of us unclean in his own way, inside, many of us feel dirty, ugly, leprous, each of us crying, ‘If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. The Gospel message is clear: Jesus is approachable no matter what our condition. Jesus will never reject us no matter who we are, what we’ve done, or how we look (Jn 6:37). This explains why the leper of today’s Gospel does the opposite of what is expected  by the society and demanded by the law; he approaches Jesus. Jesus also does the unthinkable by stretching out His hand and touching the leper (Mk 1:41) and consequently, healed him.

    Never hesitate to approach Jesus, healer of mind, body and soul, in prayer for healing, deliverance, consolation, and perseverance.  Likewise never deprive anyone of God’s loving kindness even those who are considered by law and our society as the untouchable, unlovable, undesirable,  and unbearable.

    Picture: http://www.about.com

    Useful Article:

    What do you usually give as a reason or justification when you failed to pray, when you are unable to pray? Chances are, the reason you give are: “I am busy,” ‘I have to time to pray,” “I have a lot of commitments,” “I am preoccupied with many things.” Sometimes we have the arrogance to justify ourselves by saying, “My work, service, apostolate, or ministry is my prayer.”  And the worst of all, we have the guts to say, “I am self-sufficient, what for?”

    If there is any person who has the absolute right to say “I’m busy” it is no other than our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The gospel reports some incidents when the Lord could not even eat, drink and rest because he has to minister to the needs of the hungry, sick, handicapped, demoniacs, sinners, restless and the overburdened. If there is any person who has all the right to say “I am self-sufficient,” it is no other than Lord. As John the Evangelist writes, He possesses the fullness of grace and truth. Paul writes too that in Jesus the fullness of Divinity dwells.

    But look, throughout the gospel, Jesus has been portrayed as a “man of prayer.” His life is characterized as a “life spent in solitude, prayer, friendship, and intimacy with God the Father” despite the demands and pressures of life.

    As Ezra Taft Benzon beautifully puts it:

    “[Jesus] communed constantly with his Father through prayer. This he did not only to learn the will of his Father but also to obtain the strength to do his Father’s will. He fasted and prayed forty days and forty nights at the beginning of his ministry. (“Matt. 4:2Matthew 4:2; “Mark 1:13Mark 1:13; “Luke 4:2Luke 4:2.) He prayed all night just before choosing his twelve apostles. (“Luke 6:12″Luke 6:13Luke 6:12-13.) He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. (“Matt. 26:39Matthew 26:39.) It would seem that during his earthly ministry he never made a major decision or met a crisis without praying.” (Come unto Christ [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983], 44.)

    Being followers of Jesus who is the Way, Truth and Life, let us always find a place and time where we could could spent our life in intimate conversation, intimacy and friendship with God. When we are afflicted with sickness and disability, let us never doubt the presence and the power of Jesus to help and save us. When we are confronted with dilemmas, crises, trials and difficulties let us never hesitate to approach Jesus in prayer for healing, reconciliation, deliverance, enlightenment, strength, consolation and perseverance.

    Picture: http://www.funny-games.biz/images/pictures/748-pray-every-night.jpg

    Useful Articles:

    January 25, 2009
    Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul
    Mk 16:15-18

    Today we celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. This is given special importance this Sunday since it coincides with our celebration of the Bi-millennium of the  Apostle’s  birth. Paul, also known as Saul, was born in Tarsus in the early first century A.D. Saul was not a sinner who got converted. He was a faithful Jew, a Pharisee, a true disciple of the Law and to defend the faith he persecuted the  early followers of the Way (Christian).

    It was only when he encountered Jesus on his way to Damascus that Paul was totally changed. After his personal encounter with Jesus who identified himself with the Christians whom he persecuted Paul was never been the same. He was converted into Christianity.  He became an Apostle of Jesus Christ and particularly, the Apostle to the Gentiles. Although he was not one among the original Twelve Apostles, St. Paul was conscious of what is ‘to be an apostle by vocation’ – i.e, not by self-choice and neither by human appointment, but rather exclusively by one’s calling and divine election (Pope Benedict XVI). With apostolic zeal, he faced the challenges of travel, cultures, imprisonment, and beatings; of shipwrecks and sleepless nights, of magic and philosophies. At the end, St. Paul he gave his life as a last and lasting witness to his deep and living faith in Jesus and his Body, the Church.

    St. Paul in his Letter to Timothy once spoke about the universality of salvation when he wrote: “God wills all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:3-4). What does universality of salvation mean? What is its implication? The late Pope John Paul II addressed these two questions when he wrote:   “The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all it must be made concretely available to all” (RM 9).

    This explains why Jesus started his public ministry not only by calling his disciples to repentance, baptism and faith but also by calling and choosing group of disciples to be with him whom he named apostles so that later on he cound send them on a mission. What mission? Mission to evangelize. Mission to proclaim Jesus and his message of salvation. Mission to build and spread the Church. Mission to spread the reign of God here on earth until it is perfected in the Kingdom of heaven. Mission to teach, to sanctify, to govern and lead the  people to God, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, and the  Origin and our Destiny.

    As we celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul and the Bi-millennium of the Apostle’s birth, we are reminded of the mission entrusted by Christ to the Church, to the Apostles, to the Baptized and to all members of Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, the Church. In fact, the universal missionary task involves not only these chosen members of the Church, but all the baptized, each according to his or her individual vocation. “No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples” (Redemptoris missio, n. 3). By evangelizing the nations, the Church fulfills her own vocation, because she exists in order to evangelize (cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi, 14).

    The Lord’s call to proclaim the Good News is still valid today: indeed it is ever more urgent. The call to mission acquires a singular urgency, particularly if we look at that part of humanity which still does not know Christ or recognize Him. Like Paul, we are cursed if we do not preach the Gospel. Proclaim, therefore, Christ and his Gospel in season and out of season!   [Pope John Paul II, 75th Anniversary of the World Mission Sunday]

    Picture: Wikipedia

    Useful Site:

    Feast of the Sto. Nino
    Mk: 10:13-16

    Today is the Feast of the Holy Infant Jesus popularly known in the Philippines as the Feast of Sto. Nino. As we celebrate this Feast we commemorate the mystery of the Incarnation when God humbled Himself, stripped Himself of divine glory and splendor, and became human being in all things except sin. Like any other human being he was conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As a human child who was under the guidance, protection and care of Joseph and Mary he “grew in body, age, wisdom, grace and holiness before the eyes of God and man” (Lk 2:52).

    As we celebrate the Feast of the Sto. Nino we are called and challenged:

    • To be humble like a little child. As Jesus warns: “Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled and he who humbles himself shall be exalted” (Lk 14:11). “Verily I say unto you, except you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3). The greater you are, the more humble you should behave, then you will find favor with the Lord” (Sir 3:18). “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6; Proverbs 3:34).
    • To recognize, respect and protect the dignity and human rights inherent in every child, children and youth of today especially those who are threatened or victimized by hunger and malnutrition, sexual abuse, war, domestic violence, forced labor and various forms of manipulations and exploitations. Jesus, fearing that everybody will abuse them because “the basest men delight to trample upon the humble” (Mt 18:6), warns: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of God” (Mt 10:10-11). “Whosoever shall receive one of such little children in my name receives me, and whosoever receives me, receives not me, but him that sent me” (Mk 26-37; Mt 18:5).
    • To progress in wisdom and to grow daily in our faith and works of love. Every disciple is called to moral and spiritual maturity and perfection. Every follower is called to the fullness of Christian life and perfection of charity. Like Jesus may we advance not only in body and age but most importantly, in wisdom, grace and holiness.

    To make our celebration more meaningful and fruitful, let us strive to be humble; cleanse ourselves of pride, arrogance and vanity; welcome, love and serve Jesus in the least, last and lowest in our society; and, lastly, imitate the children in their nothingness, lowliness and dependence before God.

    Useful Articles:

    Gospel Reflection: Mt: 11:28

    A man approaches a priest and asks: “Please bless me, Father, coz I have so many problems.

    My son is a drug addict, my daughter an unwed mother, my wife a gambler.

    Priest: Wala bang positive sa buhay mo? (Is there nothing positive about your life?)

    Man: Me, Father… HIV positive!

    * * *

    Of course, that’s still negative. The funny story somehow illustrates how we are beset by a lot of problems.

    Jesus in this 14th Sunday gospel invites us: “Come to me all who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28).

    Christ’s words are very timely and consoling, considering our problems today – the rising cost of living (and even cost of dying!), calamities like the recent typhoon “Frank,” holdups, personal and family problems.

    * * *

    Jesus comes to us as a friend who is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great compassion” – a “bridge over troubled waters,” as the song puts it.

    He teaches us to cultivate relinquishment, the ability to “let go” of our anxieties and to put ourselves in God’s hands.

    * * *

    But some cynic might say, “How can I put myself in God’s hands when my creditors are running after me over my two-million peso debt?” Or, should I not worry if I’m on the verge of losing my job due to retrenchment? Or, this lump on my neck is diagnosed as terminal cancer?

    These should be causes for worry indeed. But we must distinguish between worry and concern. Worry is an emotional response that is stressful and draining. It is problem-oriented.

    * * *

    Concern, on the other hand, is a rational and constructive process – and it is solution-oriented. It’s the difference between fear unaccompanied by useful action and the determination to calmly look for a solution.

    As regards unpaid debt, I know of some people who through sheer diligence, determination, and financial restraint were able to gradually pay their obligation.

    * * *

    As regards losing a job, it’s not the end of the road. You can always start again somewhere. As the saying goes, “Hope springs eternal.” As long as you’re alive, there’s hope.

    When we put ourselves in God’s hands, it does not mean we’re escaping from personal responsibility. It is, as “concern” mean, solution-oriented.

    Remember the metaphor Jesus uses in this Sunday gospel about the yoke? In Palestine two oxen are joined together in pulling heavy loads. The two oxen represent God and you sharing the burden.

    * * *

    It means God helps us but we have also to do our share. Ask yourself: When you have problems, do you present them to the Lord and ask for help? Or do you just keep them to yourself? Do you give in to self-pity and excessive worry, not doing anything to remedy your predicament?

    * * *

    Once a lady was talking about the secret of her success. She made this striking remark: “I work hard; I do my part then I let God do the rest.” Incidentally, that’s also the principle behind the success of our boxing champ Manny Pacquiao. Notice how he prays hard, kneeling at the ring’s corner before and after the fight. However, he also trains on long and dreary hours, always learning the winning techniques.

    That should be our Christian attitude, too. As much as we pray so must we work. “Ora et labora.”

    Author: Fr. Luis Beltran, SVD


    June 2017
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