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Asking the Clergy: What can people learn from Christ's example during Lent?

From left, the Rev. Msgr. Francis J. Maniscalco

From left, the Rev. Msgr. Francis J. Maniscalco of St. Thomas the Apostle Roman Catholic Church, the Rev. Marie A. Tatro, vicar for Community Justice Ministry, Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, and the Rev. George W. Dietrich of Hamptons Lutheran Parish. Credit: Catholic News Service/Paul Haring; Yeong-Ung Yang; Maria Fumai-Dietrich

Lent is a solemn religious observance that begins on Ash Wednesday and continues through Easter Sunday. During Lent, Christians attempt to follow the example of Jesus Christ during his time spent in the desert, preparing for his ministry. This week’s clergy discuss the value of Lenten fasting, self-examination, prayer and repentance.

The Rev. Msgr. Francis J. Maniscalco

Pastor, St. Thomas the Apostle Roman Catholic Church, West Hempstead

Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights at the beginning of his ministry, which culminated in his death on the cross and resurrection. By doing so, Jesus created the model for all Christians of how to prepare to commemorate his death and resurrection during Holy Week and Easter.

Jesus also gives an example of the spiritual discipline we need to allow ourselves to be molded by God’s grace into his true followers. Although God’s Son, Jesus took on our human nature and chose not to be served but to serve and to die on a cross. If we wish to come after him, we, too, must deny ourselves, take up our own crosses daily and follow him.

The scene of the temptation by the devil that follows Jesus’ fasting reveals what prayer and penance prepares against as well as for. Jesus is tempted to use his power selfishly to feed himself by turning stones into bread, or to use it to become a celebrity by throwing himself from the roof of the temple to be sensationally rescued by angels. Lastly, the devil offers Jesus power over all the nations of the world if only he will worship him instead of God. Jesus rejects these temptations.

We need the spiritual strength that comes with the prayer and penance at the heart of our Lenten observance to resist, as Jesus did, the temptation to turn away from God in favor of sin and selfishness.

The Rev. George W. Dietrich

Pastor, Hamptons Lutheran Parish (Incarnation Lutheran Church, Bridgehampton, and St. Michael's Luther Church, Amagansett)

As we continue in the 40-day journey that is Lent, we can learn much from the example of Christ. The Lenten message is rooted in self-examination, sacrificial giving and prayer. There is much more to these Lenten disciplines than one might first imagine. Each is designed to break us free from the things that pull us away from the love of God or blind us from seeing the love of Christ at work in our daily lives.

These disciplines are given to us directly from Christ, who asks us to consistently resist our desires for power, greed and jealousy. We know that these things lead to oppression, injustice and hatred. Christ shows us when we embrace prayer, giving and love for God, we gain a deep understanding of our purpose: Our lives are meant for others. In other words, love your neighbors.

The Gospel of Matthew says that Christ “came not to be served but to serve.” (Matthew 20:28) All of the praying, all of the fasting, all of the extra giving are not meant for ourselves only, but to share with our neighbor in love. Christ’s example reminds us why we need to self-examine, give up sweets, change habits, take on a new passion or cause; so we can love our neighbor more fully, and to remind ourselves that there is more to life than just us.

The Rev. Marie A. Tatro

Vicar for Community Justice Ministry, Episcopal Diocese of Long Island          

Historically, Lent was a time of fasting, prayer and symbolically walking with Jesus on the road to the cross. Christians believe that his sacrifice on the cross carried us from death into life, and from darkness into light. And his ministry leading up to the crucifixion took him on a 40-day journey into the wilderness that continues to teach us how to live, how to be our best selves through self-examination and self-reflection.

Yet I often wonder — in addition to being hungry — didn’t he get bored out there? In my childhood, the Lenten journey meant giving up sweets and attending the short daily Mass after softball practice (usually while still wearing my muddy cleats and sweatpants). But during a lifetime of Lenten seasons, I’ve seen many changes. Sure, people still give up candy and/or meat on Fridays, but I hear more and more about taking time away from Facebook, reducing screen time and abstaining from video games. The faithful seem to yearn to break free from the distractions and time-drains of the modern world.

Perhaps we can learn from Christ’s example of self-reflection, which is something sadly lacking in our world. There is so much static, and there are so many distractions. This Lent, let’s give ourselves time for the self-reflection that we yearn for, and that we desperately need: Sometimes, let’s just be bored.

DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS you’d like Newsday to ask the clergy? Email them to LILife@newsday.com.

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