Even though it was Valentine’s Day, this past Wednesday, the entire Church throughout the world entered into the holy season of Lent. At each of our various Masses and Scripture services from 6:00 am through the final Spanish service at 7:30 pm, row after row of people approached the altar for ashes. There were familiar faces, our regular parishioners. There were our young people, their parents and their teachers at our Grade School Mass. There were parents carrying infants and senior citizens walking with canes. There were business people going to or coming from work. There were visitors from other parishes who work in the area. No matter the age or the condition, all were seeking to respond to the call of Lent. The encouraging thing is that we are all in this season together. Even though our Lenten penances may be individual and personal, there is no such thing as a “private Lent.” All of us are seeking to change, to make a course correction in our lives as disciples of the Lord. All of us, young and old, short and tall, male and female, white and brown, are observing this season together. It was a very encouraging moment as we acknowledged our sinfulness, our need to change and entered this season together.
As encouraging as all that was, last Wednesday was only a beginning. Today, the First Sunday of Lent, is a new day and today’s Scripture readings invite us again to enter into this season of growth. In all three cycles of our Sunday Readings, we are presented with the various accounts of Jesus’ 40-day fast in the desert following his Baptism. This year we hear the account from Mark’s Gospel. We are invited to enter into the emptiness of the desert with him. I suspect that this invitation is not as welcome as the invitation to present ourselves for ashes last Wednesday. There is something about silence and emptiness that makes us very uneasy or even fearful. I suspect that we are afraid that if we really carved out some silent time in our day to allow God to speak to us, we might hear something we don’t want to hear.
The popular speaker and writer, Matthew Kelly, makes some very interesting observations in his book, Rediscovering Catholicism. In speaking about “The Classroom of Silence,” he points out that the ability to listen is essential if we hope to grow in prayer. And silence is an essential ingredient of the spiritual life. In silence, we will find God. In silence we will find ourselves.
He goes on to address our present day difficulties when he speaks about the practice of contemplation. He rightly observes that our modern world is spinning out of control. We are surrounded by noise from the moment we wake up extending into our over-scheduled days and lasting until the moment our head hits the pillow at night. Our world has been filled with noise and as a result we can no longer hear the voice of God or notice God’s presence all around us!
The late Bishop Ken Untener in his “Little Black Book” for Lent invites us to take six minutes a day to “spend some quiet time with the Lord.” Matthew Kelly challenges his readers to spend ten minutes a day in silent, listening prayer. Whatever the actual amount, Lent is not a season designed to “give something up” for a time and then embrace it again come Easter but a season that calls us to come closer to the Lord, to deepen our relationship with our God. Accepting ashes last Wednesday was only the first step, a personal witness that we are really going to try to grow and change this Lent. As we enter Lent 2018, I suggest that each one of us carve out a small segment of time that we give back to God in listening prayer. For some that can be a major challenge! But, a few minutes a day can change our lives. Let’s let Lent be Lent this year and not run from it by surrounding ourselves with excess activity or noise.
Copies of “The Little Black Book” for Lent 2018 are available in the Narthex for your Lenten prayer. This year’s book for Lent gives us six-minute daily meditations on the Passion according to Mark. The six-minute program began last Sunday and continues each day of Lent. They are available in both English and Spanish.
Thank you to all who have already pledged to the 2018 Joliet Diocesan Catholic Ministries Annual Appeal, and especially to those who responded to Bishop Conlon’s homily and pledged at last weekend’s in-pew “Commitment Weekend.” This Appeal is the major source of funding for all of our Diocesan ministries and charities. We are doing everything possible to reach our 2018 CMAA goal of $179,200. As we saw last year, it is possible to reach our parish goal with the participation of each family in our parish. Your generosity is deeply appreciated.
Mindful of the cold and flu season, we have received some requests to eliminate the Communion Cup and discourage hand holding at the Our Father and the Sign of Peace. Receiving from the Communion Cup has always been an option and if one is uncomfortable receiving Communion from the Cup, they should choose the option to avoid the Cup at Communion time. Health care professionals tell us that the most common way of spreading germs is through hand contact. Mindful of this, we might want to consider individual alternatives at the Our Father and Sign of Peace. Joining our hands at our heart during the Our Father and a nod of the head or a simple wave to those around us during the Sign of Peace is more appropriate when we are not feeling our best. Similarly, if someone around you does not extend their hand at the Sign of Peace, but only offers a smile or a nod, please do not take offense. They may be actually doing you a favor.
Let’s commit ourselves to enter into Lent as best as we can and make it a good season of growth. A number of wonderful opportunities are scheduled. May God continue to bless us with all that we need, and more.
Father Jim Murphy