Lent starts this Wednesday. Times of Masses and services are elsewhere in the Bulletin. (Ashes can be given only at a Mass or Service, except to the shut-in.) Let’s think about what Lent might be for us, as individuals and as a parish.
The heart of Lenten practice is preparation to celebrate Easter, especially the baptism of new Catholics at the Easter Vigil. We’re supposed to get ready to welcome them by being, by then, at our best as disciples of Christ and as a communion of faith. We do that through the three traditional disciplines of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Let me make some suggestions about each.
Prayer: Our parish, like many others, is going through a difficult time. How about a Lenten resolution to pray each day for the parish and the people who serve you in it, as employees and volunteers? And to pray for yourself, so that you can be a more effective member of Christ’s Body, His church. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see.”
Fasting: In addition to the traditional fast from food, what about building up the parish by “fasting” from critical comments, gossip, and negativity? What about a practice of holding your tongue when the opportunity arises to make a juicy comment? What about fasting from television, social media, obsessive web-browsing and blog-reading, and the like, so as to gain interior peace and become a source of peace to others?
Almsgiving: Our parish is part of the larger, diocesan and worldwide church. This weekend we’re listening to a representative of the diocesan mission speaking on behalf of the Catholic Ministries Appeal. One of my Lenten disciplines is to make a pledge to the Appeal at the start of every Lent. Why not join me – in a single donation if that’s all you can do, or in a pledge to give alms each month to the good works of the diocese?
The ashes we receive on Ash Wednesday are meant to be an outward sign of our readiness to change our hearts and our choices. We all know that just wishing to change isn’t likely to succeed, so we need practical help and self-discipline if what we hope for is to come to pass. The Lenten disciplines are meant to be daily commitments, something to practice every day so that we change our habits by Easter and are ready to welcome those who will be baptized at the Easter Vigil into a renewed and purified church communion.
I encourage you to use these days before Ash Wednesday to review your life, your habits, your patterns of speech and of action. What would Christ like to see you change? What would help you to be more of a conduit of God’s grace to others in your family, in the parish, at work or school, in the neighborhood?
The main “program” of continuing conversion in Lent (as throughout the year) remains always the same: Sunday Mass, daily prayer, moment-by-moment love of neighbor expressed through action: forgiveness, generosity to the needy, truth-telling… Make the most of this Lent, so that you can greet the Risen Christ at Easter. Until next week, peace.