Sunday, February 28, 2016

Third Sunday of Lent - February 28, 2016

Over the last two weeks, I have used this column to talk about prayer and fasting as part of our Lenten observance. That leaves us with almsgiving for today’s column. And as I have tried to keep in mind, these three “pillars” of the Lenten season truly support one another.

One of the points I made in the last two columns is that prayer and fasting turn our vision away from our human tendency to see ourselves as the center of everything. Prayer brings us closer to God and also helps us see those around us as also being children of God. Those who are in need are truly our sisters and brothers, for God is their Father as well as ours. By denying ourselves in fasting, we can be more aware that all the gifts we have come from God. Furthermore, when we accept hunger voluntarily, we are more aware of those who are hungry from not having enough of this world’s goods. We can become more sympathetic with those who are in need and more willing to reach out a helping hand.

Fasting also frees up more of our resources that we can use for others. Someone who has given up drinking, for example, can think of how expensive beer is. The money we don’t spend on whatever we are fasting from can be used to help someone who is struggling. Or perhaps we are cutting back on television during Lent. The time we would have spent “vegging out” in front of the TV can go to some good use. Perhaps there is someone we know we should call or visit – perhaps someone who has no family to talk to. Such a visit may not be easy, for it may be someone who tells the same stories over and over or who goes into more detail than we want to hear about the latest medical crisis. Yet is that conversation really any less pleasant than some of the things we might see on the reality show we have turned off for that hour? Not only are we growing closer to God by our fasting, we are also doing something good with the time, money or other resources that we have saved.

Certainly, we realize that the requests we get for help can be overwhelming. We know we cannot cure all the world’s ills. Christ Himself told us, “The poor you will have with you always.” If we could meet every need, then there would be no more hunger, no more homelessness, and every family could afford to send their children to St. Malachy School. But perhaps we can remember the story of the little boy at the seashore who noticed a number of starfish that had washed ashore with the tide and were now stranded and dying on the shore. As he was throwing starfish back into the sea, a man walked by and said, “Look at how many starfish have washed ashore. There’s no way you can save them all.” “No,” replied the boy as he picked up a starfish, “but at least I can make a difference to this one.” Let’s hope that this Lent, we can make a difference to someone at least.
                                                                          Father H                  

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Second Sunday of Lent - February 21, 2016

Some years ago my father had cataract surgery on both eyes. His cataracts had grown gradually, so he did not realize just how much of an improvement he would have in his sight. In the weeks following each surgery, he would point out common objects and tell me their color, as well as what color he used to think it was. “That chair is blue,” he would say, “and I always thought it was black.” The only problem was that gave away a nice tan shirt he had been wearing. It was no longer one of his favorite shirts once he realized it was not tan after all. Rather, his shirt was pink.

We sometimes speak of seeing the world “through the eyes of faith.” In other words, we have a different point of view than our secular society because of our faith in Christ. The problem is that “the eyes of faith” can develop spiritual cataracts. We can get so caught up in the day-to-day events of life and all that we have around us that we do not recognize how dull the eyes of faith are becoming. That is one of the benefits of the season of Lent, particularly through our Lenten fast. As I pointed out in this column last week, the Church recommends three pillars to this season – prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Fasting is in some ways the most popular. As I said last week, many of us remember going to school on Ash Wednesday and asking one another, “What are you giving up for Lent.” We would consider Lent successful if we made it through forty days without eating chocolate or watching certain TV shows. The grown-ups around us would go through Lent talking about how much longer until they could again drink a beer or smoke a cigarette. Fasting, then, became the main feature of the season.

I would like to look at fasting as a kind of cataract surgery. By setting aside some of the good things God has given us, we can see God Himself more clearly as the center of all that we do. There is nothing wrong with an occasional piece of candy, for example, but when eating candy becomes a habit, then we forget to see our treats as a gift from God. The candy becomes an end in itself. So we set it aside for forty days, and we are more open to seeing God’s presence. And when we dig into our Easter baskets on Easter Sunday morning, the chocolate we find there will be something we appreciate all the more. Fasting also supports the other two aspects of Lent. If we turn off a certain television show, we find we have time for prayer (which I wrote of last week). If we do not indulge our every desire, then we are more aware of those who do not have so many of life’s blessings, and we are more willing to reach out in almsgiving (as I will write of next week).

The most obvious Lenten fast, of course, is that we do not eat meat on Fridays. (The Church still says that we should continue this or some other penitential practice on Fridays throughout the year.) Friday is the day of the Lord’s crucifixion, so by our Friday penance, we join ourselves to His Passion and come to a deeper appreciation of the love He showed us. So by our Lenten fast, may God remove the spiritual cataracts which build up on the eyes of faith. Then we will be amazed at how much more clearly we can see God’s love in the world around us.              

                                                                                                      Father H                  

Sunday, February 14, 2016

First Sunday of Lent - February 14, 2016

On Ash Wednesday, the gospel of the day described three principle parts of our Lenten observance: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. While we usually think of Lent in terms of fasting (as in school we always asked one another, “What are you giving up for Lent?”), these three are not separate. If Lent were a multiple choice question, the answer would not be “A) prayer,” “B) fasting” or “C) almsgiving.” The correct answer would be “D) all of the above,” for the three of them support one another. This week and for the next two weeks, however, we are going to separate these three pillars of Lent for the purpose of treating them individually.

We start with prayer, not only because it is listed first in that gospel. Prayer is our communication with God. It is rich enough to describe in many ways, including the definition many of us memorized about “the lifting of our minds and hearts to God.” My personal favorite view of prayer is the simplest – it is a conversation with God. Conversation happens on many levels, from asking a stranger we meet on the street for the time of day through the intimate talk of husband and wife. For a relationship to achieve that level of intimacy, though, communication is necessary. So prayer, our communication with God, brings us to that deeper level of faith.

That prayer, then, sets the tone for our other Lenten observances. The temptation is to fill our Lent with things we do or the things we give up. We judge our Lent by what we accomplish, with the danger that we may leave God out of the picture. By making prayer the foundation of the season, we ask God to help us see our fasting and almsgiving as something more than a superficial activity that we achieve or endure. They become the concrete expressions of the love that grows with the conversation of prayer. Lent, then, becomes a time for God to “romance” us with His perfect love and call us to respond more deeply.

The problem is that prayer is one of the easiest parts of our lives to overlook. We may begin with a resolution that we are going to spend time each day in prayer. Then we get up and look at the list of things we have to do. If we neglect part of our jobs, the boss will complain. If we do not take time to prepare dinner or do the laundry, our families will complain. But if we push prayer aside, God does not strike us with a bolt of lightning to get our attention. Yet if we take time for prayer, it is so much easier to trust in God’s help and to keep our priorities in order. When we leave God out of the picture, the other things we have to get done become much more of a burden. As Pope St. John Paul used to say, “If you are too busy for prayer, you are too busy.” So Lent becomes a time for each of us to stop and ask if we have made a serious effort to set aside time for prayer each day. May this Lent bring each of us closer to God through the prayers of our minds and hearts.
                                                                         Father H        

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time - February 7, 2016

 Last fall I had an Evening of Reflection for all of our Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (commonly known as Eucharistic Ministers). The main purpose was to give them a spiritual experience that would deepen their appreciation for the Blessed Sacrament. Along with that spiritual aspect, though, we also discussed some of the practical aspects of their ministry.

At that meeting, we talked about some of the things we do and whether we could do them better. At that time, we made one change on an experimental basis. Some of the Ministers asked if we could do the purification before the Mass ended. Purification is one way we take care of the vessels that hold the Body and Blood of Christ. Two things have to happen with these vessels. First of all, anything that remains of the Eucharist is still itself the Body and Blood of Christ. Reverence dictates that we do not simply dispose of the Eucharist. Purification with water allows anything that remains to be consumed reverently. In addition, a practical concern for our health tells us that we should give a good hygienic washing to the vessels that so many people have handled. Part of the job of the Eucharistic Ministers is to wash the vessels after Mass, as we wash the dishes after dinner. In the past in some parishes, the Ministers also took care of the purification. But a few years ago, Pope Benedict XVI reminded everyone that only a priest or deacon could purify the vessels insofar as possible.

That decree left us with two choices. The practice here was for the Ministers to wait in the sacristy until I could purify. They sometimes had to wait for a while as I was in the back greeting people. If someone had something specific to say to me, that might stretch the wait out a bit. So I agreed to try purifying the vessels right after Communion. That, after all, was the way it was done years ago, when I was an Altar Server. That allowed the Eucharistic Ministers to wash the vessels immediately after Mass, and it allows me to take a little more time visiting with people in the narthex after Mass. On the other hand, that does extend the time after Communion by a couple of minutes. For some people, that means more time for quiet prayers of thanksgiving. Others, however, would prefer not to take the extra time during Mass. We have tried it now for several months, and the subject arose at a recent Worship Commission meeting. So I decided to cover the question here in my column so that everyone would understand what is happening and also so that anyone with any thoughts on the matter could make them heard. If I get enough response, we can revisit the issue after Easter.

Speaking of Lent, don’t forget that this week is Ash Wednesday. Please see the flyer in the bulletin for the Church’s Lenten regulations and for a schedule of Lenten activities here at St. Malachy. Let us make this Lent a beautiful season.
                                                        Father H