Well, my brothers and sisters, we are about to begin one of the most sacred times of the year, namely, Lent. We have been moving along nicely during this month of February, sometimes hesitantly because of the many overcast and dreary days and other times with uplifted spirits because of a bit of sunshine, but now is the time to double down and try to see the advantages of this special Lenten season. Are you ready? You know Mardi Gras is this coming Tuesday, so if you are going to celebrate that tradition of partying the night away, you’d better get your duds ready and your reservations made!
Lent really began when Constantine made Christianity the primary religion of the Roman Empire. Literally thousands of people, many of them pagans, began asking to join this religion, and the Church had to find a way to teach and to bring about good moral behavior based on these teachings to these candidates. In most places this became the catechumenate: a three year period of instruction and modeling before the candidates were ready to be baptized. During the final six weeks before the Easter Vigil, those preparing for the sacrament intensified their prayer and those already baptized accompanied them in prayer. This became the original Lent, so Lent today still has this baptismal accompaniment as one of its elements.
However, human nature and original sin also were things that each individual had to continue to deal with in his/her life. Therefore the Church also exhorted the baptized to use this Lenten period as a time of renewal, purification and penance. From early times, fasting and abstaining from meat (sometimes other foods as well) became means of disciplining ourselves to ward off temptation and to come closer to God. How often and for how long these were mandated varied from place to place, but there was a common strain of both throughout the Christian world.
Lent, then, is a special time of prayer, penance, sacrifice and good works in preparation for the celebration of Easter. In the desire to renew the liturgical practices of the Church, The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican Council II stated, “The two elements which are especially characteristic of Lent—the recalling of baptism or the preparation for it, and penance—should be given greater emphasis in the liturgy and in liturgical catechesis. It is by means of them that the Church prepares the faithful for the celebration of Easter, while they hear God’s word more frequently and devote more time to prayer” (#109).
Over the years, modifications have been made to the Lenten observances, making our practices not only simple but also relatively easy. Ash Wednesday still marks the beginning of Lent, which lasts for 40 days, not including Sundays. The present fasting and abstinence rules are very simple: On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, the faithful are to fast (having only one full meal a day and smaller snacks to keep up one’s strength) and abstain from meat, but not eggs, milk products, or condiments of any kind, even though made from animal fat. On the other Fridays of Lent, the faithful abstain from meat. The rule of fasting applies to everyone between the ages of 18 and 59; abstinence applies to all those 14 years of age and older.
Our bishops have always encouraged prayer, acts of self-denial, almsgiving and works of personal charity during Lent. A few examples of what these might be are attending Mass daily or several times a week, praying the rosary, making the Way of the Cross either individually or communally (at St. Peter’s at 4:15 on the Fridays of Lent), spending some time each week before the exposed Blessed Sacrament, reading to the blind, helping at a soup kitchen, visiting the sick and shut-ins, giving an overworked mother a break by babysitting, etc. What is important is that each of us decides to do something that is doable and that we can really commit to for Lent. Last year I recommended that you consider putting into your Lenten observance the actual living of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy; that could be excellent this year as well. Don’t try to do them all; rather, single out one or the other and set up a practical way of accomplishing that one or two throughout these six weeks of Lent.
Now is the time to plan how you will begin Lent on Ash Wednesday. We will celebrate Masses at 6:00, 6:45, 7:30, 8:15, 11:15, 12:15, 1:15, 4:30, and 5:15. Confessions will be heard continuously from 7:00 A.M. until 6:00 P.M. Ashes will be distributed down in the auditorium beginning at 6:00 A.M. and continuing uninterruptedly until 7:00 P.M. The Gift Shop will be open for your convenience from 7:00 A.M. until 7:00 P.M. Don’t hesitate to invite some of your friends from work to accompany you to St. Peter’s on Ash Wednesday. Non-Catholics may receive ashes; they may be excited to know that you thought enough of them to invite them to come along.
We look forward to seeing you often during this Lenten Season. Let’s together make it one of the most productive Lents in a long time. After all, we can all support one another in the faith community by the example we give, by our joyful countenance even when we are fasting and abstaining, by our works of charity, and by our prayer for each other.
SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
“Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” These words challenge us to imitate God in our actions. The word holy embraces the concept of wholeness, as opposed to being divided. Leviticus illustrates this meaning: “You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart.” Instead, follow the command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
In Matthew’s account of the Gospel, Jesus clearly builds on this passage from Leviticus. “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” To “be perfect” is the same as to “be holy.” Such holiness would mean that the individual is undivided in their interior and exterior lives. Jesus offers three succinct scenarios of humiliation that reflect Mediterranean culture: being struck on the right cheek by a backhanded slap is an insult; being sued in court where one is humiliated by losing property or dignity; and being forced to carry something by Roman soldiers (see Simon of Cyrene carrying Jesus’ Cross (Mt 27:32). All of these cultural situations required action to defend one’s honor.
Instead, Jesus advises a different approach: Find another way to respond that avoids violence. Rise above these insults. Jesus is abrogating a basic law of the Middle East, enduring to the present, known as the Law of Talion, the law of retaliation “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Jesus invites his followers to find a third way that rises above humiliation and avoids retaliating in the same way. Use your imagination to discover how best to overcome the insult in ways that rise above it and beyond violence.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus urges his followers to love as the Father does when he says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” They are to strive to be holy, not just to obey the Commandments. The bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean write in the 2007 Aparecida document that Christians are to follow Jesus’ example and act out of love, no matter the difficulty. “Jesus, the Good Shepherd, wishes to communicate his life to us and place himself at the service of life. He likewise invites his disciples to reconciliation—love for enemies—and to opt for the poorest” (Aparecida, #353).
Jesus tells the crowd at the Sermon on the Mount to “be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” For our Lord, this is not a saying, but a way of living. His followers see this evidenced when he eats with the marginalized, touches lepers, and fails to rebuke those who mock him at the cross. The Catechism states, “The Word became flesh to be our model of holiness (#459).
For Your Reflection: How have you managed to love someone who has betrayed or harmed you? The reading from Paul says not to boast. Is it difficult for you to attribute your successes to God? Do you think that Jesus asks too much when he says to pray for those who persecute you?
A LENTEN MESSAGE FROM POPE FRANCIS
“When we fail to live as children of God, we often behave in a destructive way towards our neighbors and other creatures—and ourselves as well—since we begin to think more or less consciously that we can use them as we will. Intemperance then takes the upper hand: we start to live a life that exceeds those limits imposed by our human condition and nature itself. We yield to those untrammeled desires that the Book of Wisdom sees as typical of the ungodly, those who act without thought for God or hope for the future (cf. 2:1-11). Unless we tend constantly towards Easter, towards the horizon of the Resurrection, the mentality expressed in the slogans “I want it all and I want it now! and “Too much is never enough,” gains the upper hand.
“The root of all evil, as we know, is sin, which from its first appearance has disrupted our communion with God, with others and with creation itself, to which we are linked in a particular way by our body. This rupture of communion with God likewise undermines our harmonious relationship with the environment in which we are called to live, so that the garden has become a wilderness (cf. Gen 317-18). Sin leads man to consider himself the god of creation, to see himself as its absolute master and to use it, not for the purpose willed by the Creator but for his own interests, to the detriment of other creatures.
“Once God’s law, the law of love, is forsaken, then the law of the strong over the weak takes over. The sin that lurks in the human heart (cf. Mk 7:20-23) takes the shape of greed and unbridled pursuit of comfort, lack of concern for the good of others and even of oneself. It leads to the exploitation of creation, both persons and the environment, due to that insatiable covetousness which sees every desire as a right and sooner or later destroys all those in its grip.
“Creation urgently needs the revelation of the children of God, who have been made ‘a new creation.’ For ‘if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away. Behold, the new has come’ (2Cor 5:17). Indeed, by virtue of their being revealed, creation itself can create a Pasch, opening itself to a new heaven and a new earth (cf. Rev 21:1). The path to Easter demands that we renew our faces and hearts as Christians through repentance, conversion and forgiveness, so as to live fully the abundant grace of the paschal mystery.
“This ‘eager longing,’ this expectation of all creation, will be fulfilled in the revelation of the children of God, that is, when Christians and all people enter decisively into the ‘travail’ that conversion entails. All creation is called, with us, to go forth ‘from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God’ (Rom 8:21). Lent is a sacramental sign of this conversion. It incites Christians to embody the paschal mystery more deeply and concretely in their personal, family and social lives, above all by fasting, prayer and almsgiving.
“Fasting, that is, learning to change our attitude towards others and all of creation, turning away from the temptation to ‘devour’ everything to satisfy our voracity and being ready to suffer for love, which can fill the emptiness of our heart. Prayer, which teaches us to abandon idolatry and the self-sufficiency of our ego, and to acknowledge our need of the Lord and his mercy. Almsgiving, whereby we escape from the insanity of hoarding everything for ourselves in the illusory belief that we can secure a future that does not belong to us. And thus to rediscover the joy of God’s plan for creation and for each of us, which is to love him, our brothers and sisters, and the entire world, and to find in this love our true happiness.
“Dear brothers and sisters, the ‘lenten’ period of forty days spent by the Son of God in the desert of creation had the goal of making it once more that garden of communion with God that it was before original sin. May our Lent this year be a journey along that same path, bringing the hope of Christ also to creation, so that it may be ‘set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God’ (Rom 8:21). Let us not allow this season of grace to pass in vain! Let us ask God to help us set out on a path of true conversion. Let us leave behind our selfishness and self-absorption, and turn to Jesus’ Pasch. Let us stand beside our brothers and sisters in need, sharing our spiritual and material goods with them. In this way, by concretely welcoming Christ’s victory over sin and death into our lives, we will also radiate its transforming power to all of creation.”
2020 ANNUAL CATHOLIC APPEAL
This is Follow-Up weekend in our parish so that anyone who was not present last weekend may make a gift or a pledge to the Archdiocesan Annual Appeal. Please remember that the Annual Catholic Appeal is much different than a one-time special collection. It is a pledge campaign where you can make a gift payable in installments.
The Annual Catholic Appeal theme, “Come, follow me…and heal the world,” was selected to remind us to continue to answer Jesus’ call to follow Him in thought, word and deed by providing the necessary contribution to fund ministries and services to share God’s love with many others in our parish and our archdiocese.
Each pledge makes a difference! All parish communities participate in the campaign and the gifts of many enable our parishes, schools, and ministries to deliver needed services. Thank you for your prayerful consideration and generous response.
A CHUCKLE FOR LENT
Little Susie, a six-year-old, came home from school whining. “Mommy, I’ve got a stomachache.”
“That’s because your stomach is empty,” her mother replied. “You’d feel better if you had something in it.” She gave Susie a snack and sure enough, Susie felt better right away.
That afternoon the family’s minister dropped by. While he was chatting with Susie’s mom, he mentioned he’d had a headache all day long.
Susie perked up, “That’s because it’s empty,” she said. “You’d feel better if you had something in it!”