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I pray that some of these ideas help you. They are meant for serious people only as its content is difficult and challenging.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. The ashes represent a period of penance, fasting and prayer. During lent, people give up something they enjoy eating like chocolate, while others make the decision to do things they do not enjoy doing: like feeding the homeless, daily praying the rosary or volunteering in a local nonprofit. The church considers eating meat on Fridays a sin, although I had many priests’ colleagues of mine who would eat lobster on Ash Wednesday and Fridays, while others would secretly eat meat (and I have witnessed that too many times).
God does not care if you eat meat, the church does. It is a church mandate and not a God mandate (it has not always been practiced in the church and it changed over the centuries from country to country). However, I do not eat meat and I respect the mandate, not because I believe that I am sinning for not listening to the church, but because it is a good discipline. If practiced correctly it may bring lots of spiritual rewards, but when not practiced correctly it brings nothing. Abstaining and fasting is important when combined with not gossiping, praying more, doing acts of kindness, forgiving those who have hurt us and confessing our sins.
Confession is important for the obvious spiritual and religious benefits, but there are additional benefits that are both psychological and mystical. The psychological benefit has to do with the inability of people to think critically. Critical thinking is not as simple as it sounds, and it involves a process of transformation. You may be introspective and reflective and think of the things you did wrong, but it falls short from critical thinking, which involves questioning assumptions resulting in changes in behavior. Many people are not aware that they lie to themselves and justify their behavior to feel better. No wonder there is no transformation and therefore they failed critical thinking.
In confession, the person is opening herself to a more objective voice, in some cases priests are very good in bringing that voice of God and transformation occurs. In addition, one is looking to reconnect with the community and the priests represent that community (beside being able to perform the sacrament in persona Christi).
The mystical aspect of confession has to do with the humility of a soul as it taps into God’s wisdom. The process is rare, and many people will never experience that type of connection in their whole lives. For those who have a hard time believing this, think for a second on how a person’s encounter with God changes their lives instantly (that’s the mystical experience). Transformation is a conversion or a change of life. Psychologists have discovered that when a person hears of a quality they would like to have they assume that they already have it. So, it is not unusual for a person to believe they are more advanced spiritually than they really are. The only way of proving one’s spiritual advantage is with a complete change of life. When put into the test those who claim to know it all fail miserably. This is where humility is desperately needed. When a person goes to confession or get spiritual counseling, they benefit the most when they are open to criticism even if it hurts. The truth will set you free, but it will first irritate the heck out of you.
So, what to do for Lent? Read a good book on changing your behavior, preferably a psychological one dealing with personal transformation. Stay away from justifying your behavior; rationalization leads to ego inflation and lack of spiritual progress. Look for a church and attend frequently. Some people think they could have a relationship with God outside of religion, that’s for people with the caliber of Buddha, Christ or Gandhi. The rest of us needs a community to worship and support our efforts. The spiritual path is very difficult and very demanding, but once we make the decision to follow the path, God will send teachers to guide us all the way. Prayer needs to be intensified. Your progress must be palpable. Your life must be altered by God and not by your ego. That’s the reason Lenten practices are helpful, but they need to be accompanied by a serious commitment. I pray that at the end of Lent your Easter may brighten your path. God bless.
-Thank you and many blessings!
Rev. Marc Angelo, MDiv, MBAacc
Remember that you can listen to some of my sermons in English and Spanish on the webpage: http://archangelschurch.org – look for past sermons.
Fr. Marc Angelo
2851 W. 120th St. Suite E-279, Hawthorne CA 90250
Fr. Marc Angelo and Fr. Jacob are very appreciative of your support and your contribution to Archangels and Seraphim Church: please continue to support us by visiting http://archangelschurch.org/ and making a generous donation. You can also send a check to: 2851 W. 120th St. Suite E-279, Hawthorne, CA 90250. May God multiply your generosity in health and love! Thank you
Mass every Sunday at 5:00pm (Spanish) and 6:00pm (English) at St. Mary’s in Palms 3647 Watseka Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90034-3914