LENT. The Season of Lent begins this Wednesday with Ash Wednesday. Although some people find this season a burden I think it’s wonderful, in that it gives us a great opportunity to meditate on the immense love of God that would lead Him to suffer and die for our sins. At the same time, then, it’s also a time to consider our sins—how we have failed to love him in return—and to work to overcome them, through our diligent efforts and cooperating with His grace. In short, it can be a time of intense growth in our personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Lent, of course, brings a much busier parish schedule, which we’ve laid out in detail in this week’s insert. Please keep this insert in a central place in your home—maybe on your fridge door—to remind you of the many opportunities for spiritual growth the parish offers this Lent.
Ashes will be distributed at all 4 Masses on Ash Wednesday: 6:30am, 8am, 12noon and 7pm. Since ashes are merely symbolic (a “sacramental” not a “Sacrament”) they may be received by anyone who wishes to repent their sins, Catholic or not, in “good standing” or not. (Note: There are no confessions scheduled on Ash Wednesday).
Acts of Penance. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of both fasting and abstinence, and every Friday in Lent is a day of abstinence. Failure to “substantially” keep these penances is grave matter (e.g., potentially a mortal sin). The law of abstinence requires that no meat may be eaten on these days, and binds all Catholics who are 14 years old or older. No other penance may be substituted. The law of fasting binds those who are between the ages of 18 and 59. “Fasting,” for these purposes, is defined as having only one full meal a day, with two additional smaller meals permitted, but only as necessary to keep up strength and so small that if added together they would not equal a full meal. Snacking is forbidden, but that does not include drinks that are not of the nature of a meal. Even though these rules do not bind all age groups, all are encouraged to follow them to the extent possible. Children in particular learn the importance of penance from following the practice of their older family members. The sick, pregnant or nursing mothers, and other folks with special physical circumstances may be partially or totally exempt from these rules—use good judgment and take care of yourself.
Of course all Catholics are encouraged to do personal acts of penance throughout the season of Lent, traditionally of three types: almsgiving (including acts of charity), sacrifice (what you “give up”), and prayer. Please choose your penances carefully, considering your health and state in life. Challenge yourself, but pick things you can actually do, rather than things that are so difficult that you will easily give up on them. Offer all this in atonement for your sins and as acts of love for the God who, out of love, died on the Cross for your sins.
The Sacrament of Penance, “Confession,” is key to a fruitful Lent. I strongly encourage that you take advantage of our extended Lent confession schedule—confessions are scheduled every single day in Lent (accept Ash Wednesday). However, I ask that you please do not postpone your confession to the end of Lent. First of all, spiritually it’s important to start the season on the right foot, repent early so that Christ’s grace may flow freely and unimpeded throughout the season. But also, more practically, what so often happens is we have just a few people coming to confession every evening week during Lent, but then in the last week we have long lines, sometimes even going out the door. Not only does this mean waiting forever in long lines, it also means you have to hurry somewhat when you finally get into the confessional; not to mention that it also is physically and emotionally draining to the priests. So beat the crowds and come early. (But also consider coming more than once during Lent).
To make a good confession you need to do a good examination of your conscience, i.e., systematically and candidly look at your life since your last confession and consider all the sins you may have committed. As you do this you should usually go through the 10 Commandments, considering which you may have violated. There are many written forms of “examinations of conscience” available in pamphlets, books and on the internet that are very helpful with this. Unfortunately, I haven’t found one that I can recommend 100% (I know a few that are excellent at identifying sins, but may be too confusing in their presentation, or perhaps leave out some more “modern” sins, etc.). So, as you may remember, I’ve developed my own “examination” which I am currently tweaking for redistribution to you very soon.
Also, I remind you that while we schedule confessions every Sunday morning, that is not the optimal time to go to confession, since only one priest is hearing confession and normally stops hearing once Mass begins. Moreover, Sunday confession times are provided not as a mere convenience but mainly to meet the real needs of those who truly cannot attend on other days or are otherwise in need of the sacrament.
Lenten Series. I am very happy to announce that this year’s Lenten Series will be presented by Fr. Mark Pilon. Most of you know Fr. Pilon, as he was our Parochial Vicar for three years before he retired due to ill health in 2012. He had come to us with a very impressive resume. He had been the Chairman of the Systematic Theology Department at Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary, and had taught at Catholic University of America, Christendom College, and Christian Commonwealth Institute (Spain). He had also served as pastor (St. Ambrose, Annandale) and High School Chaplain (Bishop O’Connell, Arlington). In his retirement he is currently teaching part-time at Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College. He has three Masters degrees, a Sacred Theological Licentiate from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies in Marriage and Family (Rome), and a Sacred Theological Doctorate from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (Rome). He is an eloquent, and erudite speaker and one of the best teachers I’ve ever known.
As you know, Pope Francis has proclaimed this year an “Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.” So Fr. Pilon’s topic for the series will be: “Mercy – Another Name for Love.” His talks will take place in the Parish Hall on five straight Thursdays at 7:30pm, beginning February 18 and concluding March 17. His first talk on the 18th will be on the topic: “The Initial Revelation of Mercy in the Old Covenant.”
I’m very excited to have Fr. Pilon with us this Lent, and I strongly urge you to come to all or as many of his talks as you can. Mark your calendars!
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles