The following is an excellent and timely reflection from my spiritual father, Msgr. Thomas Wells. After he was murdered in 2000, parishioners from one of his parishes assembled all of his weekly bulletin columns into a book, “From the Pastor’s Desk”. Great stuff! – Fr Greg
“Uh Oh, Lent is Coming” February 25, 1996
When trivia games were so popular a few years ago, there were, inevitably, several Catholic Trivia Pursuit spin-offs. I wonder if they included questions about the three Sundays before Ash Wednesday. These Sundays, each given a long Latin name denoting the number of days before Easter, were warning signals to Catholics that Lent is on its way. The priest wore purple vestments at Mass, but no Lenten practice was observed. The person in the pew saw the purple and said, “Uh oh, Lent is coming. What am I going to do this year?”
Now, of course, the season is suddenly upon us. Every year, we receive phone calls on Ash Wednesday from people asking for Mass times because they have seen people with ashes on the street and realized what day it was. It is a shame that Lent does now kind of sneak up on us because there is great wisdom in preparing for this spiritually and psychologically important time of year.
In some ways, the Church year mirrors life. There are times of celebration (Christmas and Easter), but most of life is living from day to day, something like the Church calls ordinary time of the year.
Inevitably, though, in differing ways throughout our lives, we are forced to step back and look at where we are, where we are going and what is really important to us. In the Church year, of course, Lent invites us to that same kind of self-examination.
The three traditional practices of Lent (prayer, fasting, and almsgiving) challenge us to remember our place in the world and how easily we lose focus. The added prayer of Lent, and especially the struggle to focus on God and to give Him time that He deserves, reminds us that while we are commanded to love God with our whole being, we fall incredibly short. Likewise the challenge of fasting and, by extension, all our Lenten self-denial, give witness to the self-gratification that we so take for granted.
Whether it is time before the TV or eating between meals that we “give up”, we recognize, especially as we fail after the enthusiasm of the first few Lenten days that, talk aside, our love for God must not be so strong if we have such a hard time giving up such trivial things for love of Him.
Finally, Lent invites us to give to the poor, traditionally called almsgiving. As we consider our gift to the Cardinal’s Appeal, for example, we can examine whether we really do consider the poor, the dirty, the homeless, the mentally ill – all of the weak ones of the earth – to be our brothers and sisters. St. Paul says, “Where your heart is, there will your treasure be”.
Lent is that time of year where, especially, the Church asks us to see if our hearts recognize a brother or sister in that wretched person who seems so different from me.