Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Happy Lent? Absolutely

This morning parishoners of St. Patrick church in East Hampton, CT walked out of church with a large black cross emblazoned on their foreheads. I have a secret formula (water) which produces ashes with an indelible ink quality. It has been known to resist the most serious scrubbing of soap (not really). What is so special about Ash Wednesday, and can we truly see that penance and fasting are things we should be happy about?ABSOLUTELY! We all need restoration, revival, renewal. Lent is the perfect time to restore our relationship with God. Many, sadly, think that prayer is the work of priests, monks, and religious sisters. No! By our baptism, we have all become temples of the Trinity and we are all called to the communion of life and love with God. In fact, Pope John Paul II at the close of the Jubilee year in his pastoral plan for the new millenium said that the parish is to be a "School of prayer." Where does restoration begin? For us as Catholics it begins with the sacrament of reconciliation. Here in the Diocese of Norwich we are implementing a program where each parish will have a dedicated night of the week set aside for the sacrament. Here at St Patrick confessions will be heard from 6-7pm every Monday. One cluster of parishes is making the sacrament available from 6am to 12 midnight. Why is this important? First, we need to recognize that we are sinners. As Cardinal Wuerl notes in his book "The Gifr of Blessed John Paul II": "Things do not always work out the way we wish they would. Only in children's stories does everyone 'live happily ever-after. In the moral order, in our relationship with God and our neighbor, we often fail. Sin is the name we give to such failures." The Second Vatican Council's Gaudium et Spes confirms that we are born in a sinful state: "Examining his heart, man finds that he has inclinations toward evil too, and is engulfed by manifold ills which cannot come from his good Creator. Often refusing to acknowledge God as his beginning, man has disrupted also his proper relationship toward himself, toward others, and toward all created things. Therefore, man is split within himself." It is the split we feel within us-when we fail to do the good we want and do the evil we do not want (Romans 7:19)-that cries out for reconciliation. In his post-synodal apostolic exhortation "Reconciliatio et Paenitentia" Pope John Paul II states: "To speak of reconciliation and penance is, for the men and women of our time, an invitation to rediscover, translated into their own way of speaking, the very words with which our Savior and Teacher Jesus Christ began his preaching: 'Repent and believe in the Gospel (Mark 1:15), that is to say, accept the good news of love, of adoption as children of God, and hence of brotherhood." "Reconciliation et Paenitentia has three principal chapters. Part I is titled "Conversion and Reconciliation: The Church's Task and Commitment." Wow! If that is true than we are failing as a church. Visit your typical Catholic Church on a Saturday. Do you see lines of people waiting to go to confession? There may be some exceptions but my guess is: probably not. Pope John Paul II knew that the key to conversion was acknowledgement of our sin. Just as anyone fighting an addiction has to first acknowledge it, so to does the human heart. I think it is safe to say that as a society we have become addicted to sin. Here are the words of John Paul II: "The prodigal son is man-every human being-bewitched by the temptation to separate himself from his father in order to lead his own independent existence; disappointed by the emptiness of the mirage which had fascinated him; alone, dishonored. Man-every human being-is also this elder brother. Selfishness makes him jealous, hardens his heart, blinds him, and shuts him off from other people and from God. The loving kindness and mercy of the father irritate and enrage him; for him the happiness of the brother who has been found again has a bitter taste. From this point of view he too needs to be converted in order to be reconciled." Cardinal Wuerl notes in "The Gift of Blessed John Paul II": "One of the great tragedies of our modern age is the refusal to recognize the existence of sin. The pope points out that 'when the conscience is weakened, the sense of God is also obscured, and as a result, with the loss of this decisive inner point of reference, the sense of sin is lost. This explains why my predecessor Pius XII one day declared, in words that have almost become proverbial, that the 'sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin.' Wuerl contines: "We seem intent today on justifying everything we do. The manipulation of language serves to facilitate this end. Killing is now described as 'facilitating the conclusion of the biological process.' Abortion is now defined as a procedure that 'terminates in demise.' One is reminded of the embezzler who pleaded before the judge that he was not guilty of a crime but was simply 'participating in the equitable distribution of the goods of the earth in a private and personal manner.'" Please, this Lent, take advantage of the sacrament of reconciliation. It is for this reason that Jesus died on the cross. If our dialogue with God is cut off because of sin than we need to restore this rupture in the relationship.In conclusion, on this Ash Wednesday I wish to share with you the advice of Fr. Jean LaFrance from his book "Give me a Living Word." LaFrance says: "Be very attentive to the words of Jesus which precede his teaching on prayer. They are basic as much for prayer as they are for brotherly love, almsgiving, and fasting. You will never be a man of prayer if you seek to be seen or held in esteem by men. There is a radical incompatibility between 'being seen by men' and 'being seen by the Father.' That is why I question myself on this practice of certain men in the church,who, at all cost, seek to draw the attention of the media on themselves. This runs counter to Jesus' attitude: when crowds pursue him or the apostles, he forces the latter to climb in a boat and to move to the other shore or to deserted places." In another passage he states: "Therefore, you should often meditate on these words of Christ which refer as much to prayer as to fasting and almsgiving: And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you they have received their reward (Mt 6:5) You must choose: you must prefer the gaze of the Father or the reward of men. Christ, like the sphinx of Greek mythology, cannot compromise on this point: you must follow him or flee away from him. Saint Benedict aptly puts this in words when he says in his rule:'Put nothing before the love of Christ.'" In a brilliant passage links hiddenness in prayer with the virtue of chastity: "By urging you not to reveal yourself before men, Christ is linking prayer directly with chastity. The pure hearts alone will see God and will be able to speak to him because they have not sought to be held in esteem by others. The greatest sins against chastity always come from the fact that you desire not only the body of others but their soul as well. So, do not make excuses for yourself by saying that all that you love in them is their soul: this is precisely the prohibited domain, the 'sealed garden' into which God alone can enter, and the modesty of the body must be but a reflection of the modesty of the soul." To be continued....Happy Lent? Absolutely. The Father of Mercies is waiting for you in a confessional near you. Peace!

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