You may find it hard to believe that we are about to begin one of the most sacred times of the year, namely, Lent. Didn’t we just put away the Christmas decorations a few weeks ago? The answer, of course, is yes, but Easter this year is almost the earliest it can be celebrated, and that automatically moves Lent ahead as well. 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), 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. During this Jubilee Year of Mercy I would especially recommend that you consider putting into your Lenten observance the actual living of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. 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, 9:00, 10:00, 11:15, 12:15, 1:15, 4:30, 5:15, and 6:00. 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 6:00 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.
FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
The book of Isaiah begins with the prophet’s description of his call: “In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne.” Uzziah’s death is usually dated to the year 742 BC, so we can date the year of the prophet’s call precisely. Isaiah’s vision depicts the Lord surrounded by “seraphim,” angels who serve as guards around God’s throne. These angels sing of the holiness of God, who is “holy, holy, holy,” a Hebrew phrase comparable to the English describing God as “the holiest.” Isaiah’s favorite term for the Lord is “the holy one of Israel,” and throughout his text he emphasizes Israel’s call to be holy like the Lord.
Today’s Gospel narrates the call of Simon Peter. According to Luke’s chronology, this call takes place after Jesus cures Peter’s mother-in-law, unlike Mark’s chronology, in which Peter’s call precedes the miracle. For Luke, the disciple responds to Jesus and his prior preaching and miracle-working. The miraculous catch of fish anticipates Jesus’ promise that “from now on you will be catching men.” Also unique to Luke, “they left everything.” Throughout his text the evangelist stresses the cost of discipleship.
Paul reminds the Corinthians of the centrality of the gospel to our faith. This “gospel I preached to you” is no human invention; he “received” it as part of a heavenly revelation. The power of the gospel results in the fact that we “are also being saved.” Paul summarizes the core of the message: “Christ died for our sins…he was raised on the third day…and he appeared to many of the disciples.” Those eyewitnesses and recipients of divine revelation handed on to us the gospel tradition.
For Reflection: Do I have a conscious sense of having been called by God for a mission? Do I strive to deepen my personal holiness? Do I remain open to further calls as my life unfolds and develops?
The prophet Joel’s words are a call to action: “Blow the horn…sound the alarm…let all the inhabitants tremble.” The Day of the Lord is coming, and it will be a day of judgment. The prophet calls the people to heed God’s word: “Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning.” This conversion is not about externals but is to be a change of heart: “Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord.” In this season of Lent, we too are invited to a conversion of heart; we gather today to pray for ourselves and to renew our commitment to the gospel.
The apostle Paul exhorts us to work for our salvation, appealing to us “not to receive the grace of God in vain.” He quotes the prophet Isaiah: “In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you” and then encourages us, “Now is a very acceptable time, now is the day of salvation.” Each year Lent is an invitation to grow deeper in living out our faith. Our Christian discipleship is a lifelong journey of growth and conversion, and the annual observance of Lent is an opportunity to focus on this dynamic.
Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are traditional acts of biblical piety. In our prayer we unite ourselves with God, both by speaking and listening. Our fasts remind us that there is more to life than food and that we should nurture our souls as well as our bodies. Through almsgiving we acknowledge the generosity of God by being generous to others, in particular the needy. Jesus tells us to practice these behaviors, though not to acquire the admiration or praise of others. “Otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.” Our motivation should be a desire to grow closer to God.
For Reflection: Have I considered how this Lent will be different from others? Do I make listening to God a key part of my prayer, or do I do most of the talking? What do I really need to change about my life in order to deepen my relationship with the Lord?
WORLD DAY OF PRAYER FOR THE SICK
Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes
Thursday, February 11, 2016
On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. A little more than three years later, on February 11, 1858, a young lady appeared to Bernadette Soubirous. This began a series of visions. During the apparition on March 25, the lady identified herself with the words, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
Bernadette was a sickly child of poor parents. Their practice of the Catholic faith was scarcely more than lukewarm. Bernadette could pray the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Creed. She also knew the prayer of the Miraculous Medal, “O Mary, conceived without sin.”
During interrogations Bernadette gave an account of what she saw. It was “something white in the shape of a girl.” She used the word aquero, a dialect term meaning “this thing.” It was “a pretty young girl with a rosary over her arm.” Her white robe was encircled by a blue girdle. She wore a white veil. There was a yellow rose on each foot. A rosary was in her hand. Bernadette was also impressed by the fact that the lady did not use the informal form of address (tu), but the polite form (vous). The humble virgin appeared to a humble girl and treated her with dignity.
Through that humble girl, Mary revitalized and continues to revitalize the faith of millions of people. People began to flock to Lourdes from other parts of France and from all over the world. In 1862 Church authorities confirmed the authenticity of the apparitions and authorized the cult of Our Lady of Lourdes for the diocese. The Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes became worldwide in 1907.
Lourdes has become a place of pilgrimage and healing, but even more of faith. Church authorities have recognized over 60 miraculous cures, although there have probably been many more. To people of faith this is not surprising. It is a continuation of Jesus’ healing miracles—now performed at the intercession of his mother. Some would say that the greater miracles are hidden. Many who visit Lourdes return home with renewed faith and a readiness to serve God in their needy brothers and sisters. There still may be people who doubt the apparitions of Lourdes. Perhaps the best that can be said to them are the words that introduce the film, The Song of Bernadette: “For those who believe in God, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not believe, no explanation is possible.”
“Hail Mary, poor and humble Woman, Blessed by the Most High! Virgin of hope, dawn of a new era, we join in your song of praise, to celebrate the Lord’s mercy, to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom and the full liberation of humanity.
“Hail Mary, lowly handmaid of the Lord, Glorious Mother of Christ! Faithful Virgin, holy dwelling-place of the Word, Teach us to persevere in listening to the Word, and to be docile to the voice of the Spirit, attentive to his promptings in the depths of our conscience and to his manifestations in the events of history.
“Hail Mary, Woman of sorrows, Mother of the living! Virgin spouse beneath the Cross, the new Eve, Be our guide along the paths of the world. Teach us to experience and to spread the love of Christ, to stand with you before the innumerable crosses on which your Son is still crucified.
“Hail Mary, Woman of faith, First of the disciples! Virgin Mother of the Church, help us always to account for the hope that is in us, with trust in human goodness and the Father’s love. Teach us to build up the world beginning from within: in the depths of silence and prayer, in the joy of fraternal love, in the unique fruitfulness of the Cross.
“Holy Mary, Mother of believers, Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us. AMEN.”
Prayer of Pope John Paul II at his visit to Lourdes, August 15, 2004.
Here at St. Peter’s we will observe the World Day of Prayer for the Sick by celebrating a Communal Anointing of the Sick during the 1:15 P.M. Mass on Thursday, February 11. Anyone who is 62 years of age or older, who has a chronic illness problem, who will be undergoing serious tests or surgery in the near future, or who suffers a mental, emotional or psychological difficulty is welcome to receive this sacrament.
If you wish to receive the sacrament, we ask that you arrive at church five to ten minutes early if possible so that the ushers can assist you in finding a designated place. In order to facilitate the priests coming through the church to lay on hands and later to anoint you, we will have every other pew open for the priests to move easily about. After the priest anoints your forehead, please answer AMEN, and then after your palms have been anointed, also answer AMEN. We would anticipate that the Mass along with the anointing will last about an hour. We hope that many people will be able to participate in this wonderful gift of healing and strength.
A CHUCKLE FOR YOU
One night at an economy motel, I ordered a 6:00 AM wake-up call. The next morning, I awoke before 6:00, but the phone did not ring until 6:30.
“Good morning,” a young man said sheepishly. “This is your wake-up call.” Annoyed, I let the motel worker have it. “You were supposed to call me at 6:00,” I complained. “What if I had a million-dollar deal to close this morning and your oversight made me miss out on it?”
“Well, sir,” the desk clerk quickly replied, “If you had a million-dollar deal to close, you wouldn’t be staying in this motel!”