I bet at least I have your attention!
Some people look at and others believe that Lent is nothing less than forty days of penance, prayer, retreat into one’s own spiritual life to sift out all the accumulated weeds of the past year. Sackcloth and ashes or its modern day equivalents are the marks of the “darkest season” of the Church’s year. Baloney I say. Lent is also a period of great light, not just introspective light but ecclesial light as well.
True that Lent begins with ashes and a call to repentance. We need to hear that and we need to practice penance from time to time. Many have begun some form of personal sacrifice. I have given up fast food for Lent but have unleashed within my own office, which contains one theologian, whether or not Steak and Shake is fast food! (Steak and Shake says “no.” but I still stay away from them). But did not Jesus in the Gospel on Good Friday suggest that we should not put on the appearance of remorse and sacrifice? Vestments changed to violet. The “alleluia” bade us farewell for a brief period of time. We need some reminders of these forty days but there is also a lot to rejoice in as well.
Lent was no longer than four days when about 950 catechumens and candidates arrived at the Cathedral for the Rite of Election.
I wish the whole diocesan Church could be present for that simple moment in a person’s journey to baptism and full communion. They would have crawled to the Cathedral and simple gestures like a handshake and brief words of welcome were greeted by the broadest of smiles and words and gestures of thanks.
It is always a “wow” moment, for myself as bishop, for my pastors and priests who accompanied the candidates and catechumens to the Rite ceremony and to their sponsors, spouses, parents and others who accompanied them. So little brings such happiness to so many. You are an awesome God! And we are a great Church! You can see more photos by clicking here.
On Thursday night, March 12, every parish Church in the diocese will be open for confession.
If you need it, do it! Even if you don’t need it, think about doing it. You can pick a Church on your way home from work, school, gymnastics class or a work out and there will be a priest waiting who knows you not but is desirous of assuring you of forgiveness, mercy, compassion and love. This now annual exercise is called “The Light is on for You.” Darkness be damned.
How about the readings at Sunday Mass throughout Lent? They don’t get any better than the temptation of Christ, the Transfiguration, the Woman at the Well, the Prodigal Son, and so on. And the first readings from major moments in salvation history, however familiar, stir the imagination and challenge the life of every believer. Would you have sacrificed your children for God like Abraham thought he would? Lots of parents I know have had to do so for an endless variety of painful reasons, bearing their suffering with greater faith than I can sometimes muster up. They are truly people of the light who suffered through an incredible period of gray.
And then there is the Holy Father! He surely has not taken Lent off as a time to retreat into a prolonged period of penance. Today one of the members of the U.S. episcopacy whom I have admired for his intelligence, compassion and mercy, and commitment to justice for all has been made bishop of the seventh largest diocese in the United States, San Diego. Bishop Robert McElroy is a “Francis”can bishop if there ever was one and the good Catholics of San Diego have won the “Powerball” lottery. With Archbishop Cupich in the Midwest and Bishop McElroy in San Diego in the West, this Pope is refashioning the American hierarchy. Only briefly, however, do I wish I were younger.
I conclude with the acknowledgment that I am writing these words on a Delta flight from Chicago Midway Airport to Atlanta and then on to Tallahassee for “Catholic Days” at the Capitol. It was snowing and sleeting in Chicago this morning and our plane was late arriving from Atlanta. The Delta captain approached me and began the conversation with this question: “How is your Lent going, Father?” “Well,” I responded, “and yours?” “Me too,” he responded with a smile. He told me that he attends St. Michael’s parish in Auburn, Alabama, his home and was looking forward to making the last two nights of his parish’s annual mission.
Lent is far from forty days of gray, but rather is forty days of dawn. Enjoy it! Thanks for putting up with me!