Congratulations to all of our Annual Festival Workers – the many volunteers who labored throughout last weekend – some for all three days – and helped make the resulting success a feather in their cap. I couldn’t believe all the hours some people spent preparing, setting up, breaking-down and cleaning-up the booths and tents. What an inspiring group of men and women to set the example of stewardship! Many unselfishly gave up spending time with their own families in order to serve the greater good of working with and for their parish family. Others volunteered from outside the parish and willingly worked three days at the festival with no expected reward except the gratification to know that “it’s all for the kids.” Thank you one and all!!
This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. Latin Rite Catholics throughout the world recognize Ash Wednesday as the solemn beginning of Lent, a sacred period of prayerful reflection and penance, as is evidenced by the large number of church-goers on this day.
As it marks the start of Lent, the obligation of fast and abstinence, along with deepened prayer and works of charity must naturally be the priority of the Catholic community. We begin the holy season of LENT as a solemn time set aside to reflect on our past weaknesses and to repent, i.e., change from our old sinful ways.
Even though Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation, we welcome you to begin your Lenten observance by coming to Mass that day. Ashes will be imposed at each of the Masses that day. They are at 7:00, 8:30 and 10:00 am, and 5:00 pm and 7:00 pm. It is one of two days set aside as a day of fasting (one full meal that day) and abstinence (refrain from meat and meat bi-products). Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are the obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholics.
The norms concerning fasting oblige all Catholics from ages 18 until 59. Under Church law, every Catholic in good health, aged 18 to 59, must fast. They may eat just one full meal, supplemented by two smaller meals that together do not equal the full meal. When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal that day (no snacking between meals!).
The norms concerning abstinence from meat and meat bi-products are binding upon members of the Latin Catholic Church from age 14 onwards. All Fridays during Lent are obligatory days of abstinence, as is Ash Wednesday.
So, we ask the question, what is the real purpose of observing Lent each year? Lived well, Lent can convert the heart and transform a person’s life. That’s the whole point of the season – to ready us for the miracle of Easter. But self-examination, repentance and reconciliation are rarely painless; they can sound a lot easier in theory than they are in actual practice.
We owe ourselves exactly the same mercy we owe to others. Vilifying ourselves isn’t the point of Lent. Purifying our hearts is. Lent is the time when we learn the language of repentance and forgiveness by disciplining our mind, our spirit and our appetites, so that nothing prevents us from hearing God’s voice and seeking him out. The joy in Lent comes from our confidence in the resurrection of a Savior who will deliver us from sin and restore us to life. That’s why we take on the roles of greater sacrifice and almsgiving. This is following Jesus’ own way to show mercy toward others. After his desert experience, He was well-prepared to offer his life to secure the lives of others: He reached out to the poor, the blind, the deaf, the possessed, the lame, the sinners who were open to conversion – and He made a difference in their lives.
Of course, unless we understand our own sinfulness, unless we understand the urgency of repentance and reconciliation, the Cross makes no sense; the Resurrection makes no sense. Easter joy is the joy of deliverance and new life. If we don’t believe right down to our bones that we really, desperately need these things, then Easter is just another excuse for a holiday sale; and the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation and our fasting and our almsgiving are a waste of time.
But in the silence of our own hearts, if we’re honest, we know we hunger for something more than our own selfishness and mistakes. We were made for glory, and we’re empty of that glory until God fills us with his presence. All things are made new in the victory of Jesus Christ – even sinners like you and me. The blood of the Cross washes away death. It purifies us as vessels for God’s new life. The Resurrection fills us with God’s own life.
Lent is an opportunity and a grace, not a burden. May we use the weeks of Lent this year to clean and ready our hearts so we can worthily receive Jesus Christ this Easter, and share his life with others who desperately need Him!