Our Divine Lord began his public life with two events, both of which have to do with penance. First, he insisted upon submitting to the “baptism of repentance” that was being administered by Saint John the Baptist to those who wished to acknowledge their sinfulness and undergo a conversion. Then he went out into the Judean desert where he fasted for forty days, living in that difficult and inhospitable situation.
Why did he do those things? It sounds like he was a former sinner who now wanted to repent and turn to a life of virtue. No; Our Lord did those things for our instruction and example, not because he needed to do them.
The Church has taught for all the centuries of her existence that prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are very appropriate and powerful means to celebrate Lent and to make spiritual progress. On Ash Wednesday, Pope Benedict celebrated Mass in our Dominican church of Santa Sabina, given to the Dominican Order by his predecessor Pope Honorius III in 1216. And in his homily he said, to no one’s surprise, that three effective weapons that we can and should use against evil are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Please notice: these three activities share in common the need for humility. In order to pray, we must be humble enough to admit God’s supremacy over us and our need for him and his gifts. In order to fast, we must acknowledge that we are sinners and need to do penance for our sins and to strengthen ourselves against temptation. And finally, unless we are humble, we will not be concerned about the well-being of others, but will think only of ourselves.
The virtue of humility is crucially important! Without it, there is no spiritual life. Jesus tells us in the gospel: Learn of me, for I am meek and HUMBLE of heart. Our Lady says of herself: God has looked upon his LOWLY HANDMAID. Saint John the Baptist said that he was not worthy even to tie and untie the shoes of Christ. So during this holy season of Lent, my dear friends, pray, practice some form of self-denial, and seek ways to be of service or generosity to others. That is what our God and the Church ask of each of us at this time of the year. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.