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Are We a Church that practices incarceration or liberation?

Are We a Church that practices incarceration or liberation?

“Now, one of the things we must cast out, first of all, is fear. Fear narrows the little entrance of our hearts. It shrinks up our capacity to love. It freezes up our power to give ourselves. If we were terrified of God as an inexorable judge, we would not confidently await His mercy or approach Him trustfully in prayer. Our peace, our joy in Lent are a guarantee of grace.” ~ Thomas Merton talking about Ash Wednesday

Merton said about Lent, “In laying upon us the light cross of ashes, the Christ and the Church desires to take off our shoulders all other heavy burdens — the crushing load of worry and obsessive guilt, the dead weight of our self-love. We should not take upon ourselves a ‘burden’ of penance and stagger into Lent as if we were Atlas, carrying the whole world on his shoulders.”

I told my class this week when we talked about Ash Wednesday and why the West has it. The East does something different on Sunday evening, meaning last Sunday, as a forgiveness ceremony similar to what Jews do on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. BTW, the East doesn’t have ashes. Urban II introduced ashes at the end of the eleventh century. I told them there is a small likelihood that our understanding of Lent and what penance means to ourselves, our community, and our families gets lost from the original intent of the early Church. But in any case, penance was conceived by the Church less as a burden and more as a liberation. It is only a burden to those who take it up unwillingly, as performing an obligation. Because of love, penance can often be an experience of joy and happiness within our inner self. And that is another reason why Lent is filled with the lightness of love. A friend of mine teaches at Loyola University in Chicago and is part of the Francis Effect podcast. He has a saying he uses often, and it goes like this.

There is a Christian practice that aims at incarceration and a Christian practice that aims at liberation. Everything else is just public relations.”

Lent is a time of reflection and understanding our role in the world as followers of Jesus. We should ask ourselves, what is the Church? What is our role in the Church? Are we participants in liberation or incarceration?

And I often think of Francis and his vision of the Church as I reflect during Lent to see better, judge, and hopefully act. I reflect on how Joseph Cardijn saw the Church and what the people at Vatican II saw and tried to get us to understand. What is the Church?

So, During Lent and our times of reflection, Do we see ourselves as part of a Church of Liberation? Do we judge others in a way that focuses on incarceration? What actions do we find ourselves deciding to take?

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