Following is Kansas City - St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn's column from the upcoming print edition of The Catholic Key:
Make a Lenten Retreat with St. Paul
I pray that this time of Lenten observance is already bringing graces to you. The meaningful practices of penance or mortification, prayer, and almsgiving remain the three hinges for our efforts these days. Giving up some of our comforts directs our attentiveness in a more spiritual way; time in prayer invites the friendship of Christ; charity and generosity toward others “covers a multitude of sins” and trains us in the good habits of giving our very self to others.
This year’s Lent falls within what Pope Benedict XVI has proclaimed “the Year of St. Paul.” I suggest that reading the accounts of Paul’s missionary work in the Acts of the Apostles, and meditating on his Epistles can be a helpful way to observe Lent.
The account of St. Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:1-8) is a reminder to us that the goal of Lent is a change of heart. This may be dramatic or, more often, by small increments. It requires that we open our self anew to the call of Jesus and make a sincere examination of conscience: in what ways are we serving Him, or persecuting Him?
St. Paul takes seriously his growth in the spiritual life. He disciplines his body and trains himself so that after preaching to others, he will not miss the mark. (1 Cor 9:27). With the help of St. Paul’s prayers and example, we can keep our eyes focused on the real and lasting prize of eternal life (cf. 1 Cor 9:24-25).
St. Paul uses the occasion of his letter to Timothy to talk about the importance of right teaching; not giving in to false doctrines that lead us away from the truth. (cf. 1 Tim 4; Rom 16:17). In the contemporary society there are many untruths and confusing values that can lead us away from the path of life in Christ, and endanger our eternal well-being.
Some beautiful passages from St. Paul help us to reflect on the meaning of suffering and the Cross of Christ: “He humbled Himself and became obedient even unto death – death on a Cross.” (Phil 2:6-8). “We proclaim Christ crucified, … Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor 1: 22-24) “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” (Gal 2:19)
As we anticipate the entrance of new members into the Church and the renewal of our baptismal promises at Easter Vigil, St. Paul reminds us of the radical transformation this incorporation into Christ means for us: that we become truly a “new creation. Everything has become new.” (2 Cor 5:17)
St. Paul speaks of the power of faith by which we have access to grace in Christ (Rom 5:1-20). He proclaims that “In hope we were saved.” (Rom 8:24). In one of the most beautiful passages in scripture he reminds us of the value of Faith, Hope, and Love, but that “the greatest of these is Love.” (1 Cor 13:13). This charity must be the ultimate motive for all our Lenten works.
I recommend to you that you consider, particularly if you haven’t already made a resolution for Lent, setting aside 5 or more minutes a day to read St. Paul’s writings in the New Testament. Don’t worry about absorbing all his Epistles, but prayerfully read and reflect on some of these inspired words that remain such a substantive part of God’s daily Word for us.
Have a Blessed Lent! Let us pray for each other.