This weekend, we celebrate the Second Sunday of Lent. Just this week, I received from the Bishop this year’s regulations for Holy Week during our current restrictions. While it will certainly be a lot less restrictive than last Easter, it still won’t be quite what we’re normally used to. Most of the things will be pieces that we’ve become mostly accustomed to in our current world. We won’t be able to pass out Palms until the end of Mass on Palm Sunday and we won’t have the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday. We’ll be able to venerate the cross on Good Friday, but won’t be able to touch it, and at the Easter vigil, we won’t be able to each have individual candles.
As I look at those restrictions, most of which will apply this year to all Catholic Churches throughout the world, I think most of us are well past ready to be done with all the COVID restrictions, and we’re getting anxious to get back to so many of the things that we miss from before this pandemic started. It’s hard to believe that in just a few weeks, it will have been a year since all this began with a “two week shutdown” so that the hospitals wouldn’t be overwhelmed.
I find it’s so very easy to complain about all of these restrictions and to get weary of all of it. When we see these restrictions for Holy Week, it can be so easy to roll our eyes and say, “do we still have to do all this?”. Yet, as we keep walking through all of these things, I think now is a good time for us to remember what’s really important. I think of all the sacrifices we’ve been making over the last year. It’s been difficult, there’s no question. We’ve given up seeing friends and family. We’ve given up all sorts of activities we love to do. We’ve accepted all sorts of daily restrictions. I think of all of the things we’ve sacrificed, and I realize that right now we’re still able to come here to receive Jesus.
Then I look at our first reading this Sunday. God had called Abraham from his native country, and sent him out to a new world where he knew no one. He promised him that he would be the father of many nations, and until he was old, he was unable to have a child. Then, having a son in his old age, God asks him to take his son up to Mount Moriah, and sacrifice his only son. Think about that for a moment. Of all of the things that we’ve been asked to do that we complain about. Of all the things that the Church has ever asked of us that we complain about, nothing in any of our lives comes anywhere close to that. Even though God stayed his hand, Abraham trusted God that much. Think of what that meant about his relationship with God.
As we continue through this Lenten season, I’d like us each to really, honestly, ask ourselves. “Have I been growing closer to God through all of the events of the last year?” When those moments came that I really had the time, and at least at some point this year, all of us had more time that we’ve ever had before, what did we do with it? Did that time help us grow in our relationship with God or not? Did we break open our bibles to read? Did we spent more time in prayer? Did we make some serious attempts at learning more about our faith and working to deepen it? I’m sure many did, and hearing that will feel like a recognition. Others didn’t, and it’ll feel like a disappointment. Yet, no matter what we did, we get to decide how we move forward through this Lent. So I’d ask each of us honestly, to really take seriously the call to take this Lent to grow closer to Jesus in our faith.
Coming up in the next few weeks, we’ll be offering multiple confession times: Thursday, March 18th at 6:30pm, Wednesday, March 24th at noon, and Thursday, March 25th at 6:30pm. We’ll have a different visiting priest at each time. I’d challenge each of us to really take the time to ask ourselves where we’ve fallen short of the amazing things God calls us to. Make use of the sacrament, so that we can again approach God with a clean conscience, and then no matter what things look like for Easter, let’s remember just how amazing the grace of God really is that he offers us his very body and blood as food. That having received the bread of life, God himself works to transform us from the inside out to be like him. He loves us and wants to call us to Himself if we let him. If we could really grasp how amazing that is, we’d put up with whatever restrictions, rules, or hoops, we had to jump through if it meant coming into contact with our creator, with the one who loved us so much that he sent his only son to die for us on a cross, so that we might live forever.
Sometimes, especially during Lent, we have to remind ourselves of that basic lesson.
I do hope that all of you are managing through the first few days of Lent. The first few days of giving something up are always the hardest. It’s in that first week or so of giving up caffeine, or snacks, or chocolate, or whatever it was we gave up, that we can catch ourselves doing things out of habit. Just remember, even if you slip, don’t be afraid to start again. That’s part of Lent, working through those challenges, and working to restrain our desires. It’s becoming better at being able to tell ourselves no, so that we’re more able to really choose the yes that’s most important.
This weekend, in the readings, we hear about Noah and the flood, as God established his covenant with Noah and ushered in a new world, how the flood prefigured baptism. One of the things that happens during the Lenten season is a preparation for the sacraments. This year, we have one person being received into the Church, Mr. Mike Mays. At Easter, we’ll welcome him as a new Catholic. This is a time as we pray with him as he comes through this last phase of his journey into the faith. Meanwhile, we have our children who are preparing to receive their First Communion, and our young people preparing for Confirmation. For them too, this season of Lent is a preparation to receive those great sacraments.
Then, for some reason, this has also been wedding preparation week for me. We currently have a number of couples who are preparing for marriage this summer. Some were delayed due to the virus, while others are just coming into their own. I’d also invite you to continue praying for them. Although we don’t see these things happening as we normally would in a normal year, they’re still happening. It’s good for us to remember them, so that we can keep all of those preparing for Sacraments in our prayers this Lenten Season.
I had hoped to be ready to publish the times for our Spring Penance days, but unfortunately I am still
waiting on some of my brother priests as we get a schedule together. The plan will be very similar to Advent. There will be three extra times available for confessions during Lent. Each evening will have myself and a visiting priest. We are hoping to arrange it so that there will be both evening and daytime times available. I’m really hoping to be able to share that with you next week.
We had our first “regular” Parish Council meeting last week on the 10th. A few things were decided, one of the big ones was the times and locations for Holy Week. We decided that it’s important to make sure that all of our holy week services are streamed. So for this year, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil will all be held in the Church. Easter Sunday 8am will be held at the Chapel, just like a normal Sunday, and Easter Sunday 11am will be at the Church, again as a normal Sunday.
Stations, meanwhile, will be in the Church at 6pm on Fridays in February, and the Chapel at 6pm for Fridays in March. Since Stations, by nature, aren’t conducive to streaming, we’ll be streaming a pre-recorded stations at the same time we’re doing them live in the Church.
On a practical matter, I do have some news to share. A few weeks ago, our Diocese purchased a new tool called “FlockNote” for all of our parishes. It’s a messaging tool that will allow us to share information with you on a regular basis, to share cancellations and schedule changes, to ask for volunteers when an opportunity arises, to share devotional messages, prayer requests or other things
going on in our parish. After some training and some data entry, I think we’re ready to go. The system is set up so that you can sign up only for the lists that you’d like to hear from.
There’s a few ways to sign up:
1. Visit our website, www.popnc.net and click the “Flocknote” button on the front page! You’ll then get specific directions on how to sign up.
2. Visit http://popnc.flocknote.com and enter your information. You’ll be prompted for which lists to sign up for.
3. Text POPNC to 84567 and you’ll be signed up straight from your cell phone. It will prompt you for which lists you’d like to join.
It’s my hope to use this new tool as a way to communicate with all of you. It can be something as simple as sending a text message to all of our Lectors or Altar Servers, letting them know that someone canceled and asking if someone else could fill it. It might be reminding everyone of the date and time of our Penance Service, or asking people for help with our dinners or other things around the parish. I’m also pleased that it includes text messaging, as we have a number of parishioners without internet access, but with cell phones. I’m hopeful that it will be a good tool that can help serve us to allow you to feel more connected and “in the know” of what’s going on at the parish.
Please keep praying for me as I pray for you,
- Fr Matt
It’s hard to believe, but this week is Ash Wednesday. In some ways with the events in our world, it feels like last year’s Lent never really ended. Yet, here we are. In so many ways, it feels like we’re in a different world from last year. Yet, one of the beautiful things about our faith is that it’s the same in season and out of season, in every age. Perhaps it’s good to realize that the seasons of our faith, Advent, Christmas, Ordinary Time, Lent, and Easter can give us some stability when in the rest of the world, we never know what tomorrow might bring.
So this week, as we begin the season of Lent, I’d ask us all to reflect on the three pillars of Lent, Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving. If you’d like to hear me talk about this in person, I’ll be on TV this weekend for our Diocesan news show, “Proclaim!” talking about the beginning of Lent. You can watch it on Channel 8, or online. You can click the link on our parish website.
When Lent comes around, I think most of us ask one question: What are you giving up for Lent?” While it’s certainly a longstanding and good practice, If we’re not careful, to an outsider, that can sound pretty unhealthy, almost like we’re saying that “my religion says if mistreat myself, God will love me more.” Of course, I hope we all realize that’s not the reality at all. It comes from these three pillars of Lent, Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving.
Lent is a time, as my seminary rector used to say, “when the whole Church goes on retreat.” It’s a time of preparation and training. Realizing that difficult times were coming, Jesus turned toward Jerusalem and began to prepare himself for his passion and death that he knew was to come. He was preparing himself to give the ultimate gift of love, his very life for love of us.
So as we walk on this journey with our Lord, we start with fasting. Of course, I think most of us think of fasting simply as not eating because our church calls all of us between 18-65 to fast on Ash Wednesday & Good Friday. Yet, it’s so much more than that. Fasting is intentionally choosing to deny ourselves something good. We do that as a way of training ourselves so that we are in better control of our bodies than our bodies are in control of us. I think we’ve all tried to give up something we liked for Lent, only to discover a few days in that it was a lot harder than we expected. Whether we give up a little sleep to get up and exercise or if we try to give up snacks between meals, or even chocolate or coffee. It’s hard to discipline ourselves and get ourselves into a routine, and we never realize just how much power those things have over us until we try to give them up. Yet, once we do, we can often look back and see just how much control those things had over us. Fasting, really, is about reclaiming control over our bodies. I find it helpful to realize that the vice opposed to fasting isn’t feasting, it’s addiction.
That brings us to almsgiving. It’s easy to think of almsgiving as making a donation to the things that we see as important. If I want to see something, I need to invest my time and money into it. Almsgiving though, is a bit different. Almsgiving begins with the realization that everything I have is not really mine to begin with. Each of us have to recognize from the depth of our soul that we could do nothing without the gifts God has given us. Where we are able to earn a living, we do that by using our God-given abilities. Even our very ability to breathe and eat are given to us by God. So then, by extension, we’re called to recognize that and give back a portion of what we’ve been given. Jesus tells us “whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me.” So then, we realize that God did provide for all those who are struggling right now. We, his people, are how he provides for those in need. Right here, that means not just supporting our Church, but supporting things like some of our second collections, like Ash Wednesday that supports our sister diocese in Mandeville, it means supporting food banks like the one here in town and our SvDP Food Bank in Hastings, and it means working with and supporting some of our community organizations that help those in need, like our own St. Vincent DePaul Council right here in town. Sometimes, that Almsgiving can be in informal ways too. It might be some anonymous gesture, helping out a neighbor in some way that no one else will ever see, but at it’s core, it’s about giving back that which has been entrusted to us.
Then finally, we have Prayer, the most important of the pillars. Fasting and almsgiving really help to set our bodies and minds into the right state to be able to really enter into prayer properly. Prayer is a conversation with God. If we’re going to have a real conversation with the creator of everything, it’s probably good to start by realizing He really is the creator of everything. With that in mind, when we approach God, we have to be open to that conversation. It can happen through reading scripture, through devotions like Stations of the Cross, through the sacraments, especially Reconciliation, and all sorts of other ways. The key though, is to realize that we’re the ones listening to the Master. We might ask for help where we’re confused, but ultimately in prayer, we’re looking to listen so that we might be changed.
As I think through all of those pillars, Lent is a time when we really prepare to follow Jesus in his journey to the cross, a journey he makes not because he’s looking forward to the suffering, but because he loves us so much he’s willing to endure anything for our salvation. As we walk this journey alongside him as we do every Lent, I’d challenge all of us to really take these pillars seriously so that all of us can join in Jesus’s prayer in the Garden, “Not my will, but yours be done.” When we pray that prayer with all of our hearts, we can be truly happy, with a joy that nothing in the world could destroy, because it doesn't come from the world, but from the one who created the world.
May God Bless you now and always
- Fr Matt
Prayers for all of you. It’s hard to believe, but in just a week, Lent will be upon us. I’m very thankful that this year, it looks like we’ll actually be to celebrate the Lenten and Easter Season in Church!
Of course, as always, there will be some slight modifications this year. This past Tuesday we celebrated the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, also known as Candlemas. With that feast day, we bless candles. Next to our votive lights in the Church are boxes of blessed candles. Please feel free to take a set home to light at home. We simply ask for a $2 donation per box to cover the cost of the candles. Right after with Candlemas on February 2nd, we celebrate the feast of St. Blaise on February 3rd. Sadly this year, we can’t do individual blessings of throats. However, we will have a communal blessing of throats at the end of all masses this weekend.
Similarly, because of contact restrictions, the distribution of ashes for Ash Wednesday will be a little bit different this year than in years past. Typically, on Ash Wednesday, we come forward to have the priest or deacon make a cross on our foreheads so that we walk around all day bearing that sign on our foreheads. I know when I was little, I remember thinking it was strange to hear the Gospel reading that said, “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, but anoint your head and wash your face” only to see us walk around all day on the day we’re fasting with crosses on our forehead.
Now, of course, there’s two related symbols going on at the same time. On one hand, when we wear that cross on our forehead, we’re witnessing to our faith, we’re identifying ourselves as a Christian. Ashes aren’t meant to be a symbol of honor, but a symbol of our sinfulness. In the days long before Christ, the Jewish people would express public repentance by wearing sack-cloth and ashes. It was meant to be a symbol to all the world publicly expressing sorrow for what they had done. In many ways, it’s hard to think of a comparable symbol today because we live in a world that really struggles with the concept of forgiveness and conversion. When someone has done something wrong, the idea of doing public penance, making real amends and those amends being meaningful was very real to the ancient world. To us, it’s hard. I see it in our prison ministry all the time with the expression “once a con, always a con.” It’s certainly true that there’s many who go through life unchanged, but there are also many of us, who really do grow up and change, who can look back at the person they were and say “I’m not that person anymore.” Our world
struggles to give real meaning and traditions to those permanent changes. That’s what those ashes worn were meant to symbolize. Far from something to brag about, they were meant to be more of a public sign of penance that I’ve done wrong and wish to change. It was all about finding forgiveness for public sins.
Yet, that isn’t the only thing going on for Ash Wednesday. It’s also a time of self-denial and spiritual training. Like a soldier heading to boot camp, it’s a time when spiritually we fast, do penance, and work to train our abilities of self-restraint. There’s a great line in the prayers for Mass on Ash Wednesday that talk about fighting evil with the weapons of self-restraint. The idea is that we often fall into temptation and when we fast, when we abstain from things, and when we commit ourselves to regular practice, it’s exercise to train our souls. With that in mind, Jesus calls us to avoid pride by making sure that we’re doing these things so that we can train our souls and not because pride leads us to want to win the praise of others.
This year, for Ash Wednesday, because of COVID, ashes won’t be distributed the way we usually do. Instead, they’ll be distributed in the “European Way” by being sprinkled over our heads. On any normal year everywhere in the world except for the United States, on Ash Wednesday, the ashes are sprinkled over the person’s head. It’s done that way to keep in line with the Gospel reading that encourages us not to brag about the fact that we’re fasting, but instead to realize that this is a symbol that we are beginning this season of training and exercising our souls. So as we come to Ash Wednesday this year, I’d encourage you to realize that symbol, that unlike some of our other COVID-related changes, this one actually brings us closer into the way the rest of the world celebrates Ash Wednesday.
In Parish News, I have a couple new things to share. Our next Parish Council Meeting will be this Wednesday at 6:30pm in the Church Hall. If you’d like to come, you’re welcome, but please be patient as we’re still ironing out our normal procedures and roles.
Our Diocese also just finalized a subscription to a new communications product that you’ll be hearing about very soon. It’s called “FlockNotes”.
It’s a communications tool that will allow you to very easily sign up for Text Message or Email notices about things going on in the parish. We’ll be using it for Religious Education and for reminders about various meetings and cancellations. If you like, you’ll also be able to sign up for a number of optional messages. For example, you can choose to be notified when the bulletin or this column is posted, those involved could receive copies of our Altar Server, Lector, Eucharistic Minister schedules, or even regular little Catholic reflection notes. There’s a capability for easy “sign-up” tools that can make it easier to ask the appropriate folks if we have an Altar Server / Lector / EM cancellation, or probably a lot of other things that we haven’t thought about yet.
Right now, we’re still working our way through getting the system set-up, but I should have sign-up information for anyone interested in the next couple of weeks.
May God Bless you now and always
- Fr Matt
Father Matthew Baum is the Parish Administrator at Prince of Peace Church in Northern Cambria, PA.