Sunday, March 26, 2017

Fourth Sunday of Lent - March 26, 2017

Last year I got an Apple Watch, which works with my iPhone. One app that works with both devices keeps track of my activity to keep me in shape. One function that I like at some times and dislike at others is one that gives me progress reports periodically. It reminds me, if I am sitting at my desk, that I am due to stand up and move about for a time.

If my watch works with my phone’s Activity app, perhaps I can use today’s column as a “Lenten Activity” app. Of course I cannot program this app to give you personalized reminders, but I can use it to ask the question: How is your Lent going so far? And since my watch app sets three specific goals for me (so many minutes of exercise, so many calories burned and so many hours with at least a bit of standing and moving about), I can use main “goals” for our Lenten app. So how is your Lent going in terms of prayer, fasting and almsgiving?

Prayer reminds us that Lent is supposed to bring us closer to God. Yet prayer is something that can easily get crowded out of our busy day. When we take on our daily tasks by ourselves, we put more pressure on ourselves. If we take time with God, we learn to rely on Him more completely, and we actually become more efficient and can handle unexpected turns in our day with more patience. Are we taking more time for prayer during this Lenten season?

Fasting is the most common penance of this season. We all grew up with the question, “What are you giving up for Lent?” The word “fasting” makes us think of food, and our fasting is frequently centered on food and drink. But fasting can mean abstaining from anything that gets in the way of following God with our whole heart, even if it is an innocent distraction from the day. And if we give up something that takes a certain amount of time (television, for instance), then that becomes time that we have for prayer.

Once we see prayer and fasting as key parts of Lent, we become more open to the needs of those around us. Almsgiving is the third key point of this season. The word makes us think of giving money to the poor. We can just as easily give alms by giving time to a lonely widow who needs to talk, or by giving of our talents to someone who can use our help.

I frequently speak these penances in the beginning of Lent. But as my watch teaches me, we sometimes need a reminder as we go along. So let me say a word to those who may now realize that they have not kept their Lenten resolutions as well as they had hoped. It is good if you have not kept your promises perfectly, and not just because “misery loves company.” I tell people that if we keep our Lenten observances all through the season, with no stumbles, that means we have chosen something too easy. If we find it difficult, then we are challenging ourselves to be better. So if we find some area where we have fallen short this Lent, we can remind ourselves that there are still a couple of weeks left in this season. You can, as the old song says, “pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again.”
                                                                                     Father H                  

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Third Sunday of Lent - March 19, 2017

Classical music often relies on the contrast between piano and forte passages. In simpler terms for anyone who is not a musician, classical music is sometimes loud and sometimes soft. So I find that when I have classical music in my car, if I stop at a red light when a quieter movement comes on, the car next to me invariably is playing rap music at a level that drowns out Beethoven. So much modern music has abandoned the contrast and plays at one constant level, deafeningly loud, losing the subtlety of the crescendo and the decrescendo.

Our Catholic liturgy allows for the different levels. Throughout the year, those who come to Mass on weekdays notice that the Mass is simpler than on Sundays. So Lent is a time when we keep the liturgy a little more “quiet.” The practices of Lent put us in a more contemplative mood, allowing us to focus on the penitential nature of this season. They also prepare us for the fortissimo of the Easter celebration, making the joy all the more obvious by contrast with Lent. Some of the observances are universal in the Church, and some are choices that we make at St. Malachy to enhance the somber atmosphere of Lent.

Among the universal Catholic practices, there is no “Glory to God” or “Alleluia” during Lent, and we are discouraged from decorating with flowers in the sanctuary. Notice how these items stand out when you come to Mass at Easter.

I have always liked some of the other adaptations that are available for Lent. Some speak of the penitential nature of the season, such as when we kneel for the Penitential Act of the Mass. Kneeling is a posture of reverence, but it is primarily a posture of penitence. Kneeling helps us express more clearly our need for God’s great mercy.

Other adaptations seem to me a way of expressing what my musical analogy said of keeping things simpler to prepare for the glory of Easter. I do less singing of the various Mass parts during Lent, and we dispense with the hymn at the recessional. We do not use the bells at the Institution Narrative (the Consecration) in the Eucharistic Prayer. And this year I decided to set aside the Book of the Gospels during Lent. All of these give us a sense that we are not at our greatest time of celebration just yet.

One change will carry over into the Easter season. We have the choice of substituting the Apostles’ Creed for the Nicene Creed at Mass, and I like to do that for Lent as something simpler. Liturgists often suggest using the Apostles’ Creed during the Easter season because Easter is a time to remember our baptism, as the Apostles’ Creed is part of the Baptism liturgy.

So if you find yourself next to a car blasting out rap music, take that as a reminder that Lent answers our need to quiet our hearts to listen to the message of God.

                                                                                            Father H                   

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Second Sunday of Lent - March 12, 2017

I remember an old joke about a priest who had taught the school children that it is a sin to waste food. Shortly thereafter he was hearing confessions of the school children, and a little boy confessed, “I threw peanuts in the lake.” The next boy came in, and he also said, “I threw peanuts in the lake.” Three more boys included the same sin. Finally another boy came in and made his confession, and the priest asked, “Did you throw peanuts in the lake?” The young boy said, “No, Father. I’m the boy they call ‘Peanuts.’”

That joke was a lot funnier when I was ten, but at least it goes to show that the priest never knows what to expect in Confession. By the time you read this, our second graders will have come to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the first time. It is always an exciting time for them, but they can also be rather nervous. Come to think of it, the same applies to many adults. The sad part is that many adults forget the excitement and just think of Confession as something to be nervous about. But since Lent is an important time to offer the infinite mercy of our God, then this is a good time to encourage people to come and receive the Sacrament.

I can speak from my own experience in saying that Confession is a tremendous gift from God. There are times when I have some specific need, some particular sins that I know I need to ask forgiveness for. Having been through such times before, I can come to Confession with confidence that my confessor will not berate me or think less of me. There are also times when I see the sacrament as “fine tuning.” I may not feel like I’ve been all that bad, but I know I have failed here and there. And I find that if I go more than a month or so between confessions, I start to feel as if something is just not right. The grace of the sacrament helps keep me focused on Christ, and my own self-centeredness gets in the way if I wait too long. So even if we are not aware of any significant sins (and all of us have them if we look closely enough), Confession is a chance to renew ourselves in our life of faith.

I know that while I am talking about going to Confession regularly, there are many who have not been there in a long time. I remember shortly after I was ordained, when I was 26 years old, that I had someone who hadn’t been to Confession in over thirty years. Now that I’m 57, I don’t expect someone whose last time in the sacrament was before I was born. But the longer the time someone has been away, the more thankful I am to have that person come in. If it has been a long time, I try to make the return to the sacrament as easy as I can. In fact, I try to do more than to make it easy; I try to make it a joyful occasion. A return to the Sacrament of Reconciliation after years of absence should be a time of celebration.

So during this holy time of Lent, come and celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation with us. And for the young boys out there, please tell me right away if your nickname is “Peanuts.”

                                                                                  Father H                  

Sunday, March 5, 2017

First Sunday of Lent - March 5, 2017

When I was in the seminary, our Liturgy professor told us of an old Latin saying, “Lex orandi, lex credendi.” Translated literally, it means “The law of prayer is the law of faith.” In other words, if you want to know what we believe, look at the way we pray. Our Liturgy, in addition to being our greatest source of grace, is a good way to learn about God. So I thought that a good beginning to our season of Lent would be to look at our Liturgy. And a good place to begin is with the Eucharistic Prayer.

Ordinarily there are four choices for a Eucharistic Prayer, and I may write about those choices at another time. But during Lent, I like to use the two special Eucharistic Prayers that focus on Reconciliation. Today I am going to take a few lines from the first of these special prayers.

We direct the prayer, as all the Eucharistic Prayers, to God the Father. We say to him, “From the world’s beginning you are ceaselessly at work, so that the human race may become holy, just as you are holy.” When I was a child, we had a feeling that since we focus on sin at this time of year, Lent was a time to put ourselves down. Yet any change that comes in this season is the result of God challenging us to be something better, to become what He created us to be. And we are not alone, for God is “ceaselessly at work.” Even the cross is a message of love, for Jesus’ “arms were outstretched between heaven and earth to become a lasting sign of your covenant.”

The love of God which brings us closer to him has a broader effect as well. When we are reconciled with God, we are also reconciled with one another. As the Eucharistic Prayer says, “Grant that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, as they partake of this one Bread and one Chalice, they may be gathered into one Body in Christ, who heals every division.” As an analogy, think of what happens to the Penguins if Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin are hurt. When they get healthy, the whole team works better. When we get spiritually healthy, the Catholic “team” is much richer. In my reflections, I find that theme even stronger in the second Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation.

The whole sense of our reconciliation comes back to our final goal of heaven. The prayer concludes, “Then, freed at last from the wound of corruption and made fully into a new creation, we shall sing to you with gladness the thanksgiving of Christ, who lives for all eternity.”

The Eucharistic Prayers can always be helpful for our meditations. As we get into the season of Lent, I invite you to reflect on these special prayers as you hear them at Mass. They can be a good guide for our Lenten season.
                                                                                   Father H