Thursday, February 23, 2006

Lent in the 21st Century

Hey, how about a drink? No, thanks, I gave it up for Lent.

Retreat time, Father Pat is coming. Gosh, I'm the fourth for our bridge club tonight.

Could you pick up a couple of old people on Sunday morning for the ten o'clock Mass? I have to pass on that, I'm afraid that something will happen and I'll be responsible.

Hey, looks like you got smudged by Father Romy today. He really pours on the ashes, doesn't he?

Yeah, it's Ash Wednesday. I can't miss that, it's too important. After all, it's Lent.

Oh yeah, it's Lent. Don't forget Ash Wednesday, the church will be full, so don't be late. Then, here comes Father Pat and the Lenten retreat and there are about sixty old people peppered around the church wondering why we had to spend so much for all those ashes that decorated all those foreheads last Wednesday. There might be more old people there had there been more young people to drive the oldies who don't see very well any more and can't drive at night.

I'm not a saint and I guess I will go to hell because I have missed a lot of Ash Wednesdays. I am not a saint, I have not fasted as well as I should on more than one occasion. I am not a saint because I have decided that the ten dollars I had was destined for the "Charity begins at home" plan. So actually, we are all in the same boat.

We all need to remind ourselves what Lent is all about. So here's a reminder about three things that we know about since forever and one thing that we don't hear about too often because it is rather new on the horizon.

Lent is a time of fasting, not just from food but from other things that take our attention away from God. We don't really need that seventy-two inch HDTV just because Mr. Sony says that we do.

Lent is a time of praying. Praying by Bible reading (psalms, anybody); rosary recitation; Stations of the Cross; morning meditation (get up fifteen minutes early, for God's sake!); attend the parish retreat; participate in the weekday morning Holy Mass, etc.

Lent is a time of almsgiving. Clean your closets out and clothe the poor; visit the sick; volunteer somewhere (school, church, hospital, city hall, etc.) give blood, drive an old person to the grocery store, donate to the food bank, cook for some family who just lost a loved one, etc.

Remember, Lent is not just for me and you as individuals, Lent is for the community. Which brings me to the fourth element of Lent,

Giving a good example to the people who are going to be baptized at the end of Lent. The community welcomes the new Catholics during the Easter Season, after the forty day retreat that is Lent. Lent therefore is a six weeks long retreat when all Catholics prepare themselves to be good examples of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. That is a tall order, is it not?

These new Catholics have been preparing themselves for baptism for almost two years. They have been watching us carefully. They have been seeing behavior that makes them ask their teacher about why we do what we do, as Catholics. Sometimes, just sometimes, the answer makes them smile. Some smiled at Ashes on Wednesday, but all were dead serious when they learned about the true meaning of Lent, pray, fast, share and give the community the good example of what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.

Now you all, remember that, and don't you cry at my funeral.

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