* First Sunday of Lent
On the First Sunday of Lent we listen to one of the stories of Jesus being tested/tempted in the desert for forty days. It is the core image of our Lenten season—forty symbolic days “in the wilderness,” learning to trust in God rather than rely solely on our own resources. In Mark there is no dialogue with Satan or focus on that, because for Mark the key is not so much Satan’s testing of Jesus but the fact that the Spirit of God “drives” Jesus out into the desert to be tested. Jesus has just experienced the overwhelming affirmation at his baptism of being God’s “beloved Son in whom God is well-pleased.” Will that experience sustain him? Will he remain docile to that Spirit even if in the face of things he did not really want to experience, or will he assert his freedom and power and independence? Passing the “test” for Jesus meant that wherever the Spirit of God “drives” him in life (endless series of healings, confronting authority, disappointment in disciples, facing evil, experiencing torture and death), he will go, rather than claim his freedom to do otherwise.
At one level, Lent is really a paradox. We are asked to take on individually and collectively a rhythm of penance—traditionally prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—but if we are not careful, we use these actions too often to increase our self-sufficiency or self-worth. Look at me/us: we can give up food or alcohol or snacks or internet if needed; I am losing weight; I am not addicted to these things. Look at me/us: are we not charitable and generous? How close to God and wonderful I feel after spending time in prayer, but has it affected my attitude and response to others? We practice acts of penance, yet in so practicing, we know how insignificant they really are. Remember the gospel from Ash Wednesday: to fast, pray, give alms, or mark ourselves outwardly with ashes so that people know we are doing it makes us hypocrites, not saints. How do we get out of turning Lent into yet another exercise of our self-sufficiency? How might we resolve the paradox?
Listen to Jesus’ words when he comes out of the desert: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” The whole point of the season is to de-clutter our minds, hearts and bodies so that we can hear that call of God which challenges our status quo, our comfort zones, our current ways of thinking and acting. Lent is not mainly about what we can accomplish spiritually for ourselves. It is a season that is inviting us to hear anew the Lord’s call to repentance, a change of life and attitude, whenever and however it comes to us, so that we can be God’s mercy to others. Our personal acts of penance lead us to becoming more docile to the Spirit, so that we find ourselves better able to hear God’s call to us. The real penance is responding peacefully and lovingly to others in all situations. The penances we take on for Lent are trying to remind us (ideally some type of daily penance) that we too often put unnecessary wants and desires in the way of responding to the Spirit of God.
Let us, then, move deeper into our Lenten journey. Continue our penances for sure but remembering: the true test is not if we are keeping our self-imposed acts of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving but how such penances free our heart
to respond readily and more easily to others with God’s mercy.
* Tuesday Confessions
Throughout Lent, in addition to the usual Saturday 3:00 – 3:30 p.m. time for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we have added a Tuesday night 6:00 – 7:00 pm. opportunity for the sacrament. The confessional area is set up near the front left portion of the church. There is an opportunity to go face-to-face or behind the screen. Because we are not using the confessionals (too close and tight of space given the COVID situation), I ask that people remain on the right hand (northeast) side of the church, while waiting for their confession. We will have some music playing in the background to cover the sound, but it would be best to give each penitent a fair amount of distance while they are going to confession, to be sure no one overhears anything.
* Dispensing from the Sunday Mass Obligation
Last week I went into some detail about Archbishop Vigneron’s decision to no longer dispense from the obligation to participate in Sunday (Saturday night) Eucharist and I would encourage you to read that if you have not done so. This lifting of the dispensation goes into effect March 13. Even though the general dispensation is lifted, the Archbishop discusses a number of situations in which someone can reasonably discern if they should still refrain from coming to public Masses. On any given Sunday, pandemic or not, people can make a reasonable decision not to come to Mass if they are ill or frail, have significant other obligations, are caring for someone in the house, and many other reasons. The obligation does not come from the Archbishop but from being a member of the Christian community. Use your own reasonable judgment. All things being equal, however, it would be good to get back into the Sunday Mass practice. We have room in the church to continue to be properly socially distanced; we sanitize between Masses; masks are still required. Maybe it is time to come back to Eucharist or, if you have been back, invite others to see that it is safe to do so. If it still is best for you, then please livestream the Sunday 10:00 a.m. Mass from home and drive to the parking lot at communion time to receive Communion. That option will remain for the foreseeable future.
* Change in the Ending of the Opening Prayer (The Collect) at Mass
About ten years ago the English-speaking bishops, approved by the Vatican, published a new English translation of the Roman Missal, which contains all the prayers used at Mass. They made an effort to adapt the English to as close to the underlying Latin text as possible in the hope that languages that then used the English translation as the basis for their vernacular translation would also stay closer to the original Latin. This has led to some awkward or obscure wording at times, which is unfortunate, but I think we have pretty much become used to the changes. For example, in the Nicene Creed at Mass, we now say consubstantial with the Father rather than saying the more easily understood one in being with the Father, because the Latin has the word consubstantialis. Or in the Apostles’ Creed, we have gone back to he descended into hell rather than he descended to the dead, because the Latin has the word for “hell” at that point, even though the meaning of that word in English is better translated as “the realm of the dead,” not “the place of eternal punishment.”
Surprisingly, there was one place that the bishops did not follow the Latin text, and that was at the end of the Opening Prayer at Mass known as the Collect: after the “Let us pray,” the priest-presider pauses to allow all the people to silently pray and then “collects” those personal prayers and sums them up in the formal prayer that is in the Roman Missal. The current English translation of the ending of those prayers reads: Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who live and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. At the time the bishops decided, with permission from the Vatican, to emphasize the Trinitarian nature of that prayer—we pray to God the Father through Jesus the Son in the Holy Spirit, one God three Persons. The new translation, which came into effect this past week, reads: Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. By omitting “one” before the word “God,” the prayer now precisely parallels the Latin text and emphasizes the Christological doctrine of Jesus’ divinity. Jesus is God for ever and ever.
Because the current books do not have that change, I am sure there will be times when we as priests forget to alter the phrasing, but we will do our best to remember. In the end, there is nothing wrong with either translation, just a change in what gets emphasized: The Trinity or within the Trinity that Jesus Christ is truly God.
* Family of Parishes Page on Website
We have added a “Family of Parishes” page to our stregis.org website. Click on the menu at the top and then Family of Parishes. That will be the place where links and other information about Family of Parishes can be found. You will see there the results of the parish leadership consultation on St. Regis’ strengths, areas for growth, envisioned opportunities when in a family model, and remaining questions/concerns. We began with the Pastoral Council and parish staff, took the questions to the Parish Leadership Night in January, brought all the ideas together, and then had the Pastoral Council sign off on them.
Because we are in what is being called “Wave Two” of the transition, it means that we will be in a holding pattern until our Family comes into existence (July 2022). What we can do in the meantime is begin praying for our Family (St. Regis, St. Owen, Holy Name, Our Lady Queen of Martyrs). If you have never visited the other churches or celebrated Mass there, it might be good to do that in the course of the year. I do not foresee significant changes for the next couple of years, but the goal is to eventually find ways to share a vision, resources and personnel (especially priests) where possible, but in a way that maintains each parish’s strengths and independence.
*Pandemic Stimulus Checks
At the February Parish Pastoral Council meeting one of the members made a wonderful suggestion. He pointed out that many of us who have received the two pandemic stimulus checks and might receive a third one in the future, really do not need that money. Some do and that is excellent help for them. But for those who really are not hurting, while it is perfectly fine to accept and use that money, he suggested we think about spending it by donating it to charities who are in need or hurting due to the pandemic. What a simple but powerful idea! For example, I know that we will be hosting the South Oakland Shelter program again for one week in June. Due to the pandemic, they have to rent hotel space rather than use church facilities, and use restaurants and food delivery services rather than on site preparation of food. This increases the costs significantly. Perhaps, a perfect way to use the stimulus check would be to assist our Christian Service S.O.S. leaders when they approach us for help in this area, or to assist other charities that are equally struggling.