When one refers to the need of renunciation, self-control and sacrifice, the audience is often surprised. They express it sometimes with a wry smile and a blink while a few is amused. It’s pretty embarrassing; it was also for Paul in Caesarea. The Roman procurator had listened carefully to the apostle, but when Paul began “to speak about justice, self-control and the future judgment” he interrupted him: “You may leave now—he said—I shall send for you some other time” (Acts 24:25).
In a world where success smiles at opportunists, where those who enjoy life are admired, every intemperance is allowed and they make their force the rule of law (Wis 2:6-9). Who recalls certain values, some challenging choices, runs the risk of not being understood and becoming unpopular. Yet, this is not the only reason why today Christian ethics is viewed with distrust or mocked.
There is an error that educators, motivated with the best of intentions, often make. They expose the moral obligations before speaking about God and his love, before having made clear that he is not the antagonist of man’s happiness but the Father who desires that his children may have the fullness of life. This right theological and pedagogical approach is the first reason for the rejection of Christian morality.
There’s a second one: hypocrisy. It is the impeccable religious practice disconnected from love and justice; the worship of God associated with attachment to money and to a grudge against the brother; the performance of external rites to silence the conscience. The liturgical services are authentic only when they celebrate a life according to the Gospel. The prayers acceptable to God are those done “lifting up pure hands, without anger and dissension” (1 Tim 2:8).
To internalize the message, we repeat:
“The pure and unblemished religious practice faultless is never separated from loving people.”
It is always difficult and delicate choosing a gift, not only because it requires knowledge of the desires, expectations, and sometimes even the bizarre tastes of the person to whom it is offered, but, above all, because, at least on a subconscious level, it is felt that with the gift, a part of ourselves is delivered.
The most appreciated gifts are not expensive. Those that show the greatest involvement of the giver are precious. For the birthday of his wife, Clara, virtuoso pianist, Robert Schumann composed the famous “Dream” and accompanied it with a dedication: “The song is not suited to your skills, but expresses all my love.” It was the heart that, through music, Robert handed over to the bride.
To the loved one we are willing to deliver what we hold most dear. Abraham loved the Lord to the point of thinking to give him his only begotten son, the son he loved more than his life.
Christmas is the feast of gift. We exchange gifts because we understand that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (Jn 3:16) and invites us to respond to his love by becoming, in turn, a gift for the brothers. “This is how we have known what love is; he gave his life for us. We, too, ought to give our life for our brothers and sisters” (1 Jn 3:16).
To internalize the message, we repeat:
“The Lord expects of me a gift: the gift of my life to the brothers.”
“After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week…” (Mt 28:1). This is how the story of the manifestations of the Risen One on the day of Easter starts. That is why the Christians chose to celebrate their weekly feast, not on Saturday like the Jews, but on the following day which the Romans called “the day of the sun.” It was soon changed to the day of the Lord. They gathered “to break bread” (Acts 20:6-12) and to offer to the needy brethren what they were able to save throughout the week (1 Cor 16:2; 2 Cor 8:9).
The early Church did not celebrate Christmas day or feasts in honor of our Lady, or any other for that matter. There was only the weekly celebration of the Lord’s resurrection.
This went on for the first few decades of the Church. The Christians felt the need to celebrate the central event of their faith in a special way. So the first of the feasts, Easter, considered the Sunday of the Sundays, the Feast of Feasts, was born. It was like the queen of all feasts, of all Sundays, of all the days of the year.
By the start of the second century it was celebrated by all Christian communities. The celebration culminated in the night assembly of prayer which concluded with the Eucharistic celebration. The Christians attached importance to attendance at this feast. A famous Christian writer of the time, Tertullian, speaking of the difficulties that a Christian girl would encounter if she were to marry a pagan boy, says: “Will her husband allow her out the night of the Easter Vigil?
How did Lent begin?
To reap the spiritual fruits of Easter depends on how well this feast was prepared by Christians. They introduced the custom of observing two days of prayer, reflection and fast to express their sorrow for the death of Christ. They gradually prolonged the period of preparation: in the third century it became a week, then three weeks until on the fourth century it extended to forty days: Lent thus began. The Council of Nicea (325 A.D) speaks of the forty days as an institution known to all and spread everywhere.
The Easter feast must not only be prepared; there was a need to prolong its joy and spiritual wealth. The seven weeks, the 50 days of Pentecost were instituted and must be celebrated with great joy because—as Irenaeus put it, “they are like a single feast day and are as important as a Sunday.” During the Pentecost they prayed standing up. Fasting was forbidden and baptisms were performed. They would like the day of Easter to last…fifty days.