March 1, 2020: First Sunday of Lent - Pastor’s Corner
Lent has begun. Although we might greet Lent the chagrin of its disciplines, these next forty days are meant to be a time of spiritual growth and renewal. The word Lent itself means “springtime” and its goal is to open our hearts afresh to the Holy Spirit in our lives. Beginning this last Wednesday with the imposition of ashes, the Church offers us a sustained season in which we can strengthen our relationship with God through three dynamic activities: Fast. Pray. Give. Just as, in the Gospel, we hear about the Spirit “driving” Jesus into the desert where He fasts from food, prays to His Father and readies himself to give himself completely to preaching the Kingdom of God, so too, the spirit of Lent compels us to real practical action to fast, to pray and to give. If we have not yet formulated real actions and strategies for growth, here are some ideas which might be helpful for these next 40 days of growth.
Fast. When we think about fasting, we normally consider giving up eating and drinking food and drinks that we enjoy. Especially, if such foods are not conducive to good health, e.g., sweets, fast food, alcohol or coffee, giving these up can be both physically and spiritually cleansing. Beyond this consider: 1. Give up Gossip. We may not realize how pervasive gossip is part of our lives until we try to give it up. But we all know how easy gossip is to be drawn into. When someone says something negative about another person, how easy it is to jump with relish into the fray. This Lent, when you are tempted to start or join in the negativity, resolve to either say something nice or don’t say anything at all. If you think this is easy, try it! It can be eye opening to realize how often it is part of life. 2. Limit screen time. Studies tell us that, on average, people interact recreational with screens, e.g., smartphones, tablets, computers and TVs, for almost 7 hours a day! Certainly, technology has wonderful advantages, but Lent is good time to consider the time we waste simply looking at screens. 3. Stop Complaining. Like gossip, complaining is an aspect of life which exerts negative spiritual gravity. Like empty calories, complaining effects momentary cathartic release, but ultimately weighs us down emotionally and spiritually. When we find ourselves griping about a person or frustrating situation, try to catch yourself and entering into a moment of gratitude for the blessings that you do have!
Pray. Prayer is the heartbeat of Lent. The reason for fasting is to clear our minds and hearts of the entanglements which keep us from connecting with God. Prayer is talking to God like a friend. In these next 40 days, we are invited to spend time with the one who loves us most dearly so to him we might draw more nearly. Beginning the day with a morning prayer, saying a prayer before meals or kneeing down in gratitude before bedtime: such practices provide a rhythm for prayer. Be practical! Pick up a “Little Black Book” prayer companion, which we are providing at the parish, and spend six minutes a day with the Scripture. Beyond this: consider that variety is the spice of life. Try a prayer habit that stretches you behind your normal habit. For example, say daily rosary, spend some time in Adoration, attend Mass during the weekday, or come to Stations of the Cross on Friday at 12:15pm/7:30pm. The possibilities are only limited by our creativity to lovingly reach out to connect with our Creator.
Give. This Lenten action is perhaps the most important as it motivates us to create new habits of generosity. One practical way we engage in growing in generosity is through the Archdiocese Annual Appeal where the vital work of the larger diocese comes to life. More than merely funding the Chancery, these donations help a wide array of individuals precisely in their moment of need. The Appeal supports hospital and jail ministries, reaching out to those on the margins of society. It sustains the lives of our children in the inner city, including schools and teachers, who struggle to make ends meet. Those seeking a vocation as priests, those studying to be priests, and those elderly priests who need care: this appeal touches their lives. Your generosity is an incarnation of great mercy. Another idea: Clean out the closet. Each day for the next 40 days, get rid of something you haven’t used recently or donate clothing to Lima center that does not find regular use. Along with the obvious benefits of simplifying your space and household, you also get practice in the exercise of considering what is essential from what is not vital to happiness. Whatever and however you are called to fast, pray and give, know that you’re not alone. As a community of faith, we strive (even if we fail) to follow Christ into the desert into order to emerge into Easter oasis. Happy Lenting!
~ Fr. Michael