From the desk of Father Tom Frechette, our Pastor....
Lent. Just saying the word elicits many different responses from different people. I do believe that most of these would be a recalling of a feeling of heaviness and burden, a certain kind of darkness of the mind and heart. Part of this is due to the memory some of us older than a certain age have regarding how our Church used to commonly call us to conversion. It even comes from when the Church would use threats and promises of doom to catch our attention (and some would say to attempt to control us). The biggest problem with this approach is that it isn’t consistent with how Jesus called and challenged those he was inviting to be a part of his new way of viewing our relationship with his Father. And this new way of seeing God was really the core of his message. It is the Good News that is so often referred to in his teaching and the earliest Church teachings.
What Jesus did was to break open the story of God reaching within human history in order to establish an openness to His presence in their daily lives. Jesus turned the story from one of an adversarial relationship with God to one of a God so filled with compassion and kindness and mercy that we have trouble believing it. It still gives us trouble. We just find it hard to fathom how an all-powerful, omniscient Being can be in love with such faulted, broken, and wounded creatures as ourselves. (Why this is so would itself be a subject of a lengthy course of study.) Suffice it to say that we, even in our own present very enlightened age, can profitably spend energy and time growing our appreciation for the breadth and depth of God’s love for us. It will change how we experience life itself, as it will cast into a different context all of the events, both tragic and joyous, that mark our journey here on earth.
We now begin this year’s season of Lent. The meaning of the word “Lent” is “Springtime.” Would this be a good way to approach this year’s invitation to grow in preparation to celebrate the Easter Mysteries? Could we see ourselves experiencing a springtime in our faith? This is the time of year that gardeners clean and clear away the left-overs from the previous growing season and then prepare the soil and plant new things so that the blooms that will come are healthy and beautiful. Can we take that approach with our spiritual lives. The Church offers a clear path, based on the progression of the Lenten Readings at Mass that should guide us. These provide an outline for spiritual growth. People often add extra activities such as Stations of the Cross, receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or even just devoting time to silent prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament in church.
The season that is coming is one of anticipation for what comes at the end: our celebration of Holy Week and Easter. Our best preparation is to focus on what God is telling us through His Son. We can do this best by clearing away that which blocks His message, and then allowing that message to penetrate our minds and hearts, knowing that it is message of great encouragement that we might grow to accept the Father’s Love. From that acceptance great good will flow in and through us.
Try this as the call to a new way: “The Great Season of Springtime approaches, prepare its way!” Now doesn’t that sound more like the joy Christ invites us to be a part of?
Our Lenten journey begins on Ash Wednesday. I hope the season can be one of real growth in our spiritual lives and help us to gain new insights into how God works in and through our lives to bring His presence more fully into our world. I would ask that you see this initial act of penitence for what it is – a sign we accept upon ourselves that acknowledges the difficulty we sometimes face in making the best decisions. We have trouble seeing what is really important, what really matters. The reminder that we are dust is asking us to see that without God’s grace in our lives we will never reach the great potential God has planted within us at our creation. If we can bypass the distractions then there really is no limit to what our lives can become. This is the path to not just glory, but to joy in all its fullness, and this is our call.
I hope you will also notice that the color of the season is not just purple, but royal purple. This reddish violet is the color worn by royalty in ancient times. We use it to remind ourselves that we have been anointed Priests, Prophets, and Kings (or Queens, as appropriate.) These are not mere titles, but actualities that were accomplished through the Sacred Chrism on the day of our baptism.
As Priests each of us has direct access to God to seek His intercession. We do not need to go through someone else to gain His attention. Though it can be helpful at times do so, there is nothing that stands between us and God. We are His priest on our own behalf and that of all the world. When we agree to pray for someone we are accepting the responsibility to use this gift to bring this concern directly to God.
As Prophets we are given the gift (and task) to bring God’s message to His people and the whole world. A prophet speaks God’s words to His community. The power of this word can strengthen, console, and heal. This gift is used by those who Lector in our church at Masses and prayer services, quoting Scripture for the benefit of those gathered. It is also the power of example when we live the word of God in ways that use not only the words themselves but their meanings as we reach out in love to those in any kind of need, be it loneliness, despair, hunger, or any kind of fear.
As Kings and Queens we hold a royal dignity, which reminds us that we are of the household of God, truly His sons and daughters. The exercise of the fullness of this gift will be revealed in Heaven, but even now it can help us to act as the Royal Family of God that we are even here on earth. We will be called upon to be patient, gentle, kind, sacrificial, and all this while leading those entrusted to us to fulfill their own call to love and serve God. Being royal is no easy task, but it is ours.
Finally (for this note!), the changes in how we celebrate Mass are meant to simplify our prayer. This allows us to focus more completely on that which really matters: the sharing at God’s table of the Word and the Eucharist. (As an example: the omitting of the Gloria brings us more quickly to the Readings, which are filled with wisdom and instruction.) We will also be asking once again that our dismissal without song reflect this simplifying as we depart without talking until we are outside of the doors to the church. This is difficult for all of us (especially me!), but if I can learn discipline to do this there will other more important things that come within my reach. I ask you to do your best to share this communal act of focusing ourselves and our purpose. These small things will lead to much greater and profound graces. It is all part of what He wishes for us. Let us begin our journey with a certain excitement for what may come to us this year!