February 10, 2013

LENT. This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. As I’ve said many times, this is my favorite season, in as much as it calls us to meditate on the ineffable and immense love of God that it would lead Him to die for our sins. At the same time, then, it is also a time to consider our sins—how we have failed to love him—and to work to overcome them, through our diligent efforts and His grace.

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 to remind you of the many opportunities for spiritual growth the parish offers this Lent. Please also note, we will NOT be adding any Masses to our Lent schedule, e.g., we will have an evening weekday Mass only on Wednesdays (as usual). But we will be adding confessions every weekday evening (see the insert for details).

Ashes will be distributed at all 4 Masses on Ash Wednesday: 6:30am, 8am, 12noon and 7pm. Since ashes are merely symbolic, and 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).

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 a 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. The Church defines “fasting,” for these purposes, 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. Special circumstances can mitigate the application of these rules, i.e., the sick, pregnant or nursing mothers, etc.

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 lofty or difficult that you may 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.

Sacrament of Penance. Confession is really key to our fruitful observance of Lent. In fact, it is one of the Precepts of the Church that all Catholics “shall confess your sins at least once a year,” which is usually tied to the Lenten season. I strongly encourage that you take advantage of our extended Lent confession schedule—confessions are scheduled every day in Lent (accept Ash Wednesday). However, I ask that you do not postpone your confession to the end of Lent, as many did last year, when we had to have four priests hearing long lines—literally “out the door”—every weekday evening in the last two weeks. This year, with only two priests, if that same phenomena occurs it will extremely difficult on all of us. So, again, please go to confession early on in Lent, especially if you don’t go to confession frequently. As I did in Advent, I am trying to get extra visiting priests to come and help with confessions—but this is not an easy task since confessors are in such high demand during Lent.

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 stops hearing once Mass begins (those attending Sunday Mass should normally be participating in the Mass, not in confession). 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. As I mentioned last week, Fr. Paul Scalia will be giving a Lenten series every Thursday evening during Lent, beginning February 21st. His topic will be “The Beatitudes: The Ladder to Holiness.” I highly encourage all of you to attend these talks.

SCOUT SUNDAY and BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA. Today, Sunday, we will remember “Scout Sunday” at the 8:45 Mass, followed by a ceremony in the Parish Hall honoring all those involved in scouting in our parish: Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, Explorers, American Heritage Girls, etc.. I am happy to recognize the good and hard work these children and their adult leaders do and the good qualities they take away from traditional scouting! So please join me in saluting and encouraging them all, especially our boys and girls and young men and women. God bless them all!

But on a national and international level, traditional scouting values have come on hard times. As I mentioned in last week’s column, this last Wednesday (Feb. 6) the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America (NEB) was supposed to vote on whether to change their rules to allow actively “gay” persons to become members and leaders in Boy Scouts. This would have been the death knell for traditional scouting as we know it.

Thanks be to Christ, as I write this column (on Wed., Feb. 6) the word comes that the NEB has decided to postpone any decision and lay the matter before a vote of the 1,400 member National Council of the BSA at their National Annual Meeting in May. This surprise about-face is directly the result of the tens (hundreds?) of thousands of complaints registered against the proposal in just in the last few days. So I want to thank all of you who prayed and called, emailed or wrote BSA—you made a difference! Unfortunately, though, this is just a postponement, and we must keep up our efforts to protect our boys from the potentially devastating effects of this still-proposed change, and to keep the Boy Scouts “morally straight.”

Oremus pro invicem, et pro patria. Fr. De Celles

December 9, 2012

ADVENT, BAPTISM and PENANCE. Advent is a time to prepare for Christmas, not simply by buying presents or decorating the house, but by “prepar[ing] the way of the Lord” into our hearts and lives. We begin by reflecting on the words St. Luke uses in today’s Gospel to summarize the entire message of St. John the Baptist: “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Now, for the baptized, these words might recall to us our baptismal innocence, especially if we were baptized as babies: a newly baptized baby is absolutely pure and holy in the eyes of God. As we get older, though, we lose some of that innocence, eventually finding ourselves willfully committing sins, even terrible sins we deeply regret, and we develop sinful habits, “vices,” we can’t’ seem to get rid of.

For us, who have lost our innocence after baptism, what do we prepare the way of the Lord this Advent when we here St. John “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”? We can’t be baptized again, so what do we do?

First, we remember that Baptism is a sacrament that has no end: once baptized always baptized (so there is no “re-baptism”). And the Advent proclamation of St. John reminds us that we are not doomed to wallow or drown in our sin, but that as Baptized Christians we can and must make it a staple of our life to constantly “repent” and be open and eager to receive “the forgiveness of sins.”

And for that, even though we can’t receive the Sacrament of Baptism again, we can receive the sacrament many of the early Church Fathers compared to “a second baptism”—the Sacrament of Penance. In this sacrament our sins are once again washed away, so our souls are as pure as the soul of a newly baptized baby, and we have a new chance to start again to live the life Christ created us for and introduced us to in Baptism. But there’s a problem: while we have repented and sin is forgiven, all the sinful habits—vices—we’ve built up, and all our memories of past sins, and all our weaknesses developed over years of living in the world, all these remain. And they can become like valleys and mountains that seem so hard to get over, or like crooked and rough roads that cause us to stumble and fall in sin. Which is another reason we need the Sacrament of Penance, as it gives us the grace to level all obstacles, and to straighten the crookedness and smooth over the roughness our hearts, so that the sacrament becomes a fulfillment of the Advent prophesy and promise: “Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

During Advent, we will be hearing confessions every single day (until and including Sunday, December 23); in addition to the regular confession times a priest will be in the confessional every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evening from 6:15pm to 7pm (he may stay longer, but only if his schedule permits). Please take advantage of this sacrament to prepare the way of the Lord into your heart and life. But, please do not wait for the last minute, since we may only be able to have one priest hearing on some days and he may have to leave at the set time, even if the line remains. And don’t wait until Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning, and get upset when the priest has to leave when Mass begins!

INFANT BAPTISM. As we prepare to celebrate the Birth of the Baby Jesus, who opened to us the gates of paradise, and while I’m on the subject of Baptism, I’d like to take this opportunity to address something that is a growing concern to us priests. Since the first century the Church has happily baptized infants, not as a merely symbolic rite of entrance into the Catholic Church but to wash away the original sin and open to them gates of Eternal Life. Christ made it very clear that the grace of Baptism is necessary for salvation (“no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit”—John 3:5). And while the Church teaches that God sometimes gives the grace of Baptism in certain extraordinary ways, e.g., in the “baptism of blood” of the martyrs, the Church has always maintained that it does not know if anything like that applies to babies who die without baptism. And while Bd. John Paul II gave hope to all parents of unbaptized babies as he wrote to post-abortive mothers in Evangelium Vitae [99], “You can entrust your child to the same Father and to his mercy with hope,” this was not a change to official teaching. So, the Church continues to teach that we do not know if unbaptized babies go to heaven, and that, while we should always trust in God’s mercy we should also never presume on God’s mercy to do what we fail to do.

Because of this, and with loving concern for the eternal souls of babies, the 1983 revised Code of Canon Law, personally promulgated by Bd. John Paul, requires: “Parents are obliged to see that their infants are baptized within the first few weeks. As soon as possible after the birth, indeed even before it, they are to approach the parish priest to ask for the sacrament for their child….” [Can. 867 §1]

Unfortunately, many parents nowadays don’t seem to know about this “obligation” and delay their babies’ baptisms well beyond “the first few weeks.” So I write this, just as Bd. John Paul did, not to frighten or berate you, but out of love for babies and their parents, and to assure that all our babies will share in eternal life. Please keep this serious obligation in mind, and remind your Catholic friends and families as the case arises.

REMINDERS. I invite you all to join the choir, the lectors and me at 6:30pm next Sunday, December 16, for a program of beautiful Advent music and Scripture readings, called “Lessons and Carols.” Also, I will continue my Advent Series this Thursday evening, on the topic: “Re-Introduction to The Bible: An Overview.” Newcomers are more than welcome, especially those with little familiarity with the Bible! Finally, I remind all of you that the parish has a special fund set aside for families or individuals in need. Please let me know if you are aware of anyone, especially a parishioner, is need of assistance this Advent.

Oremus pro invicem, et pro patria. Fr. De Celles