As we begin this series of Lenten reflections, I want to start by making a simple statement: “It’s a privilege to be a Catholic.” Some of us were born Catholic, some of us became Catholic by choice, later in life. But I submit to you that being a member in good standing of the Roman Catholic Church is a blessing and a privilege.
Now, I understand that, we Americans, and most of us who live in “first world” countries are firm believers in democracy. We don’t like for people to tell us what to do. What we may not understand is the difference between our life in society and our life in God, which causes us to make a serious mistake. We expect the Church to be a democracy too. And the fact is, it’s nothing of the kind.
We don’t celebrate the feast of Christ the President, or Christ the Prime Minister. We celebrate the feast of Christ the King! And He is a king. He’s a good king, a benevolent king, but He’s still a king; and we’re His subjects. If we can’t accept that simple fact, then we’re doomed to a life of discomfort, frustration, and unbelief.
Not only is Christ the King, but before He returned to heaven, he left us a Church that has a structure, starting with Peter the First Pope, the Prime Minister to put it in political terms. He left Peter the keys to the kingdom. In Jesus’ time, those keys represented His authority. In Jesus’ time, towns were surrounded with walls to protect them from their enemies. The king had the keys to the wall. Only his most trusted lieutenant, his prime minister, would ever be trusted with those keys. When Jesus left Peter with the keys, He was truly putting him in charge; not just Peter, but each of his descendants, up to and including the current Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. There can be no doubt that you and I, as Catholics, are subjects to Jesus Christ and His Church.
As subjects, we don’t get to make it up as we go along. If the Church tells us that we should go to mass every week, it’s not a suggestion. If the Church tells us that marriage is for life, we don’t get to decide that we know better. If the Church tells us that abortion is murder, than abortion is murder.
So, if it’s a privilege to be a Catholic, why is it that I’m not supposed to eat meat today but my protestant friends can? Why is it that my friends can play golf all weekend while I have to take time off to go to Church? What’s up with that?
Remember when Jesus questioned Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Peter swore that he did and Jesus responded “Feed my sheep.” In other words, take care of my people. But, let’s stick with the sheep analogy for just a bit. A shepherd’s job, just like Peter’s, is to take care of the animals in his care. How does he do that? He does it by controlling them. Modern shepherds use sheep dogs to keep the sheep from wandering off where they might get into trouble. Isn’t that exactly what Mother Church does when she guides us on how to live our lives.
Which is better for me? To play golf on Sunday morning or to come to church? Notice I didn’t say “what would I rather do?” I said “what’s best for me?” God created us and He knows us. He knows that, left to our own devices, we’d give in to the pleasures of the flesh and wander away from Him. He loves us too much to let us do that, so He created the Church to keep us out of trouble. Not because He wants to spoil our fun, but so that we might end this life prepared to join Him in eternal life.
So, when the Church tells us to use the next 40 days to purify ourselves, she’s not being demanding, she’s helping us to be the best versions of ourselves.
Right now, the Cardinals, and all major league baseball teams are in spring training. They spend hours practicing the basics of the game, doing calisthenics, eating nourishing food. Practice, practice, practice. All day; every day. Do they enjoy it? Maybe not so much. But they do it because they know that the hard work now will pay off later. You can’t win the big game if you’re not in shape.
The word “Lent” means spring. So consider the next six weeks your spiritual spring training. Work to eliminate your bad habits and to reinforce your good ones. It may hurt a little bit for a while, but give thanks to God for leaving you a Church that loves you enough to give you guidelines and rules for living a better life.