Lent starts this coming Wednesday, February 14. The schedule of Masses & Services with distribution of ashes is elsewhere in the Bulletin. (By church law ashes can only be distributed as part of a Mass or service, except when being brought to the housebound for the sick.)
The traditional Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are meant to deepen our relationship to Christ and to make us better and more effective disciples in our work. So as you prepare for Lent and make one or a few Lenten resolutions, I encourage you to consider these traditional practices first:
Prayer: If you don’t come to Sunday Mass every week now, make a resolution to use this Lent to begin – and then keep it up after Easter. It is simply impossible to be a good Catholic, to deepen one’s faith, and to be an effective disciple, without the weekly guidance and nourishment of the Eucharist. If you are now a faithful Sunday Massgoer, consider coming to weekday Mass one or more mornings a week – or add the Liturgy of the Hours – at least Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer – to your daily routine of prayer. (Backing up for a review: The Church prays in two ways: officially as Christ’s Risen Body, and through individuals’ personal prayer. The two official prayers of the Church are the Mass and other Sacraments, and the Liturgy of the Hours. In these we take part with the whole Church in fulfilling our role to praise God and to sanctify creation. Everything else – the rosary, devotions, novenas, all the rest – is private prayer that individuals may adopt as a help to coming to know and love God.)
Fasting: We fast (from food) and abstain (from meat) according to the discipline of the whole Church and as part of the Church’s Lenten preparation for Easter. (Again, the regulations are elsewhere in the Bulletin.) But personal fasting according to our circumstances can also be helpful and, perhaps, vital. Let me suggest that the most important sort of “fast” we 21st-century American Catholics might undertake is from the media – commercial and social. Disconnect for an hour a day, or for a day a week. Talk to people face-to-face; ban smartphones from the dinner table (a good idea not just during Lent, in my opinion.) The people who created and who now support the major media platforms have admitted that they’re designed to be addictive. That can’t be good for our spiritual life. As with so much technology, the web and its offshoots are a good servant but a poor master – keep them in their place in your life, starting this Lent.
Almsgiving: Giving to the poor is profoundly intertwined in our tradition with penance for sin. In both Old Testament and New, giving to the poor is considered a gift to God, who repays with the gift of eternal life in return. Christ made this explicit and personal in His parable of the Last Judgment: “When I was hungry you gave Me food … Whatever you did for one of these least, you did for Me.” Lent is a time for practical steps to care for the poor, close by and around the world. Choose a charity, and commit to giving for Lent.
In addition to these, our parish will offer two programs for Lent:
A Course on St. Mark: We read the Gospel of Mark during this liturgical year. Learn more about him and hiw Gospel in a four-session course offered by Msgr. Don Hanson. Monday evenings, 7:30 to 9 P.M., in the Parish Center. Dates are March 5, 12, 19, and 26. No registration necessary. If you can’t make them all, make as many as you can.
Reading the New Testament in a (maybe) New Way: The practice of Lectio Divina (“Divine reading”) is ancient in the church, but few lay people were taught it. Now you can learn a spiritual practice that monks and contemplative religious have practiced for centuries. Again, details are elsewhere in the Bulletin.
Ash Wednesday invites us to draw closer to Christ, Who loves us more than we can imagine. What will you do to respond to Christ’s invitation? Until next week, peace.