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