The Sunday of Zacchaeus begins our planning for our Lenten efforts to open our hearts for the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord. For all, there are the pastoral guidelines for fasting and attendance at weekend Divine Liturgies and Pre-sanctified, and Holy and Great Week services. As always, there is the goal that we do something extra to spiritually help us to grow closer to God during the Season of the Great Fast.
When I ask someone how they feel about their physical health, they are able to explain their list of illnesses and what medicines they take and their efforts to stay healthy. For young people, they are more active and unrestricted in what they can eat and do. As they get older the lists of drugs and operations gets longer and the efforts to stay healthy get shorter or more difficult to maintain. The measures of body weight ad vital statistics give a clear indication of whether they are getting stronger or weaker physically.
When I ask someone how they feel about their spiritual health, most people look puzzled, but when you ask them the question if they feel like they are getting closer to God and what is holding them back, they are able to answer. They know how often they attend their church, how often they confess their sins, how they schedule their personal prayer and fasting, and what they do to serve their church and community.
Like physical exercise, it gets harder for most to do the spiritual and community tasks as we get busy. The actual measures of spiritual health are less defined than physical health. But after explaining what they are doing, most people are able to say whether they are falling away from or growing closer to God.
Whether you feel that you are growing closer or falling away from God the question remains the same. What are you going to do for the Great Lenten Fast?
For children and for beginners, we chose something to give up for during this Great Fast. Cutting out chocolate or some other food for children or even adults can still be an excellent daily reminder of our connection to loss and suffering of Christ, who died for our sins. The return of the missing treat on Easter Sunday can also remind us of the joy of Christ in the repentance of one sinner and the joy of the Resurrection and our hope of joining the Saints at the heavenly banquet in heaven.
A deeper way of entering the spirit of fasting is to use the time of the Fast to attack a problem which you have not been able overcome in your life. Known to others or hidden in our hearts, most people have something wrong that is the perpetual stumbling block for their spiritual life. No matter how many times we confess and try to change, we are unable to let go of a bad habit or ill will toward someone.
During this season of fasting, pray to be released from your most difficult problem. Offer the fasting and time of prayer to help you to let go of the habit or to escape the control which the problem has over you.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a private and safe place to seek help. Sometimes the counsel of a spiritual director can help let go of our problem. Since the time of the Desert Fathers, many people have sought the life giving Word. Some would travel great distances for months to receive direction from a holy person in some remote desert or wilderness location. The spiritual quest for healing and renewal continues today.
Clergy, seminarians, and religious are required to have a formal spiritual director. For most people, our pastors, parents, grandparents, or holy relatives have been the source of direction. Some find a wise and holy person in their church. Others find wise and holy persons at monasteries or convents. Once we have found someone to help us, we faithfully listen to their words of guidance for our lives.
Whether we are a beginner or we are committed to traveling deeper into our journey toward holiness, the Great Fast is a time to reform our lives and open our hearts and minds to the Father’s love for us.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend William C. Skurla, D.D.
Metropolitan Archbishop of Pittsburgh
Apostolic Administrator of Parma