Pastor’s Column for February 18th, 2024
I hope your Lent is off to a good start. What’s important is to allow yourself no delay in deciding about—and then, beginning—your special Lenten practices. It might even help to actually write down your plans. But whether you write them down or not, it’s important to be quite specific, rather than “vague” about what you’re going to do this Lent.
Three areas within which you can focus your Lenten practices were suggested by the gospel reading on Ash Wednesday. Those areas are prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
If it seems hard to get going, you might try an extra day of fasting to jump-start your Lenten exercises. An intensive way to fast is not to worry about how much you are "allowed" to eat, but rather, simply pick a day and don't eat at all! (Unless, of course, low blood sugar or other health concerns dictate otherwise.) A variation on this approach is to abstain from food from sunrise to sunset. Be sure to pray, as part of this exercise. In next week’s article, I hope to write in more detail about fasting.
However, a practice related to fasting is to discipline yourself in some other aspect of personal consumption, besides eating. For example, "fast" from TV programs entirely or in part. (That would certainly give more time for prayer, personal or family growth, or for acts of charity.) Partially or completely abstaining from desserts, alcohol, candy, or tobacco can lead us to a simpler lifestyle. It shows respect for the temple of our bodies (wholeness and holiness are, really, quite related), and even might provide us extra money we could share with the poor.
For prayer: Pick a special time for prayer—I mean in addition to the spontaneous prayers that occurs at various times during your day. This Lent don't be content with just "hoping to pray at some time during the day". Rather, pick out a special time, a time that’s really good for you. Be specific, too, about where, and how much time. Do you need a Bible or a rosary or prayer book or other aid? I’m especially urging people to spend some time in SILENCE during prayer. Prayer is supposed to be “conversing” with God, and any conversation is flawed if you are the only one doing the talking! What about coming to a weekday Mass? There are other liturgical or para-liturgical opportunities at our Parish. For example, once again this year we will be celebrating the Liturgy of the Hours, (Morning Prayer), during which Communion will be distributed, on Mondays and Fridays of Lent. And on Friday evenings of Lent at 7:00 there will be Stations of the Cross followed by Night Prayer, which is the last “hour” of the “Liturgy of the Hours.” You might also want to mark your calendars now for Friday, March 22nd. That’s when our musician, Bill Richart, will be presenting a “special” experience of Stations, which will also begin at 7 PM. I have received many positive comments about this presentation in previous years. Even I gained some new insights into what happened during Christ’s Road to Calvary.
Almsgiving can take a variety of forms and can be uniquely rewarding if at least part of it is a result of our fasting. The trick here is to challenge your giving level so that it becomes a real sacrifice, which you are doing for religious reasons—and that you're consciously aware of those reasons! Any special efforts of almsgiving are good: consider the St. Vincent de Paul Poor Boxes, or your favorite charity, and, of course, our parish should always have your generous support so we will be able to move forward together in Mission.
Lent is a good time to re-examine (or examine for the first time) your level of sacrificial giving. The word “sacrifice” comes from the Latin words sacra (meaning holy) and facere (to make) and are those things we do that help make us holy. For many Catholics, the idea that their use of money is intrinsically linked to their level of discipleship is a foreign concept. It is not foreign to the Scriptures, however, and is something we need to understand better. As a pastor I have come to realize that if we are to “foster discipleship” (that’s part of our current parish goal), I need to provide more teaching on this neglected element. Personally, I have been more and more trying to incorporate as the basis of my financial decisions the idea that any money I have actually belongs to God, and I am only a steward. “Lord, let me know how you want me to use your money.” (It’s actually quite liberating!)
A comprehensive approach to Lenten practice is to take “the one-hour challenge,” which tries to address all four major areas of a disciple’s response to God’s gifts. (See the box elsewhere in this bulletin.) The “Personal Spiritual Plan” that I mentioned at the beginning of this article similarly tries to address all the areas of Total Christian Discipleship/Stewardship, which are: Prayer, Family, Finance, and Service.
God's blessing on you and your loved ones during this holy season.