* Preview of Lent at St. Regis
I know it seems early, but Lent is just around the corner (February 17 is Ash Wednesday). Because our lives are still mired in recovery from the pandemic and because, even in the best of times, we tend to get overscheduled or so busy that we might not take the time to appreciate the difference that an intentional entry into Lent can make, it is good to think through the Lenten season ahead of time and make some decisions regarding one’s Lenten practices.
The three, biblically inspired Lenten practices are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. To keep the season of Lent is not a matter of adding some extra prayers, or giving up something for the season, or finding a way to donate some money to charities. All these are fine things to do. The purpose of Lent, as a season for the Church community, is to make us ready to welcome new fully-initiated members at the Easter Vigil and to prepare ourselves for a re-commitment to our baptismal vows and identity at Easter. One way to look at the season is to see the three-fold invitation to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as an invitation to deepen our relationship with God, to re-think our relationship with the things we place priority on in our daily lives, and to be more prepared to let our relationship with others be prioritized by who needs us the most.
Our relationship with God. The call to prayer, both individual and communal, during the season of Lent, is a call to be more intentional in our relationship with God. We have an overall sense of God in our lives; we pray in various ways; we even feel God is close to us at times. And yet, do we spend enough time in quiet prayer, letting the Spirit of God speak to us? Do we entrust every aspect of our lives to God, including those we see as adversaries, opponents, problem-people? How will each of us add an extra dimension to our prayer this Lent? As the parish community of St. Regis, we believe that God wants to pour out ever more his Spirit into our lives, if we open ourselves to that Spirit. In particular, I invite all of us to intentionally enter the practice of lectio divina on the upcoming Sunday Scriptures. Beginning on Ash Wednesday and continuing throughout the Wednesdays of Lent we will have two open zoom sessions, one at 12 noon and one at 6 p.m., where the practice of lectio divina will be modeled and shared for all who loop themselves in. It will be led by one of our parish staff members and will focus especially on the upcoming Sunday gospel. Simply go to the website and click on the lectio divina link any Wednesday of Lent.
We will also have three Retreat Nights during Lent on successive Fridays. There will be both an option to attend the event live at the church or to zoom/livestream from home. March 12th will be for the women of the parish; March 19th for the men, and March 26th focused on families. There is no cost for these events, but to help us properly plan and prepare we ask that you register online at the stregis.org website and click on the event(s) you will be attending. Give yourself and your family the gift of spending time with others in reflection and prayer this Lenten season. Finally, as it pertains to prayer, we will livestream the Stations of the Cross each Friday following the 8:30 a.m. Mass (and so the Stations will be available on the St. Regis YouTube channel anytime after that). We have added an extra weekly hour for the Sacrament of Reconciliation on Tuesdays of Lent from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m.
Our relationship to ourselves and the things we give priority to. The call to fasting during Lent is really a call to simplify our lives, to intentionally let go of some conveniences and habits that are comfortable for us but are not necessary. As Jesus says to Martha about her sister Mary “only one thing is necessary and Mary has chosen the better part.” Fasting is a way to recognize how easy it is to fill our lives with unnecessary things—too much focus on food, drink, social media, television, and more. All good in moderation, they can slowly and subtly excessively consume our time and energy. The traditional fast for Lent is from food (currently on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, one full meal only, no eating between meals) and meat (Fridays of Lent). But these are minimal requirements. Take a few moments and think about what over-consumes your time and focus and decide on some type of fasting from that. As a parish we are especially looking at Wednesdays of Lent as an additional fast day and asking parish members to unite that fast or abstinence to prayer for God’s grace to help defeat the pandemic and its consequences. Whether we give up a lunch or dinner, or simply choose not to snack between meals that day, or put aside our Facebook, Instagram, and other social media feeds for several hours, or refrain from television in the evening, or any other decision to fast—please tie it into that communal prayer for healing from the pandemic. To encourage each other, we invite you to post on our parish Facebook page (not on the day you are fasting!) some reflections on what you are choosing as your fast and what you are experiencing.
Our relationship with others. The call to almsgiving is really a call to re-prioritize our relationship with those around us, giving preference to those most in need or most vulnerable. It can include specific donations to various charities but can also include taking time and making an effort to get involved in acts of charity through the donation of our time and energy. As a parish we have several Lenten Acts of Charity we are especially focusing on and would encourage your support of these as part of your own almsgiving.
Let us be more intentional this Lent. Let us begin with Ash Wednesday and continue each week of Lent thereafter. Fast on that day; be part of one of our Masses or prayer services throughout the day (we will be administering the ashes via a cotton tip, a new one for each person, and so it will be respectful of the pandemic concerns); join in the lectio divina at noon or 6:00 p.m.; and make a conscious decision on how you will try to follow through on acts of charity that day and throughout Lent. The Church has experienced the season of Lent as one of great grace for the whole community when that community enters into the season wholeheartedly. Lent is fast approaching. What will you do to make it a season of grace for you, your family, and our community?
* President Biden’s Catholicism
There are some websites and media outlets that claim to speak for the Catholic point of view who have expressed outrage over the fact that President Biden is a practicing Catholic and who receives Communion almost daily. Rather than commending him on his public display of faith, and his consistent commitment to practicing that faith, they seem intent on trying to destroy his Catholic identity, due to his political stance on abortion, contraceptive mandates, transgender policies, and same-sex civil marriages. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the months and years ahead—there are some bishops who want the bishops’ conference to take a public stance against President Biden receiving Communion and others (including Biden’s own bishop in Delaware and his current bishop in Washington D.C.) who believe that calls for excommunication are misguided. These latter bishops point to, among other things, what Pope Francis said in his 2013 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelium Gaudii (“The Joy of the Gospel”): “The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems. (par. 47)”
To be clear: unless taken up by the Vatican, it is the local bishops’ decision that determines the issue of receiving communion and the public Catholic status of a person, if it is called into question. In other words, yes, President Biden is officially Catholic; he is not excommunicated from the Church; he is free to receive Communion like any other Catholic. What about his political stance toward the issues mentioned above? That is worthy of discussion. President Biden’s support of issues that go against the Church’s teaching and wisdom needs to be addressed by the bishops, just as his support of issues that flow from Catholic Social Teaching need to be commended by the bishops. President Biden is not a theologian or a bishop. It would be one thing if he were claiming to speak on behalf of the Church and encouraging false teaching. He is not doing that. He is claiming that his political approach to these issues is the best for the public welfare of this highly pluralistic country. He can be profoundly wrong about such things but still be a Catholic in good standing.
Is there not a danger of scandal for such a high-profile person receiving Communion in public? Scandal is a legitimate consideration, but for every voice that would call for one person’s excommunication, there will be others calling for like treatment of public political Catholic persons who support capital punishment, who support or have supported the separation of migrant children from their parents at the border, who support the development of nuclear weapons and the sale of arms to countries that have shown a misuse of them, who have issued a racist comment, and so on—all of which go against Catholic teaching. In other words, except in extreme situations, the most prudent pastoral course is to recognize that we are all in need of God’s grace, and to be very careful not to presume to judge another person’s relationship with God. Otherwise, we too easily use the call to orthodoxy to hide what is very unchristian and even heretical; what Pope Francis has called a type of modern Pelagianism, where people “ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying. In neither case is one really concerned about Jesus Christ or others.” (Evangelium Gaudii, par. 94).
Do I think President Biden can be challenged on his political stance on the issues mentioned? Yes, absolutely. But I am also heartened to see a public political leader, who happens to be Catholic, who so comfortably and sincerely talks about God, prayer, and faith. I would not want to be the arbiter of his or anyone else’s conscience before God. If anyone is trying to live their faith as best they can, in the midst of complex political situations, and affirm the Church’s teaching in their personal life and conduct, I would think excommunicating them would not be a wise or prudent pastoral decision. Rather, the desire for ongoing Communion can continually challenge them (as I hope it does all of us) to ongoing conversion, making sure our consciences are clear before God before receiving Communion.
* World Marriage Day and the Blessing of Marriages Next Weekend
This year World Marriage Day (second Sunday of February) and Valentine’s Day conveniently dovetail. As we have done in the past, we will bless married couples at all the Masses on the weekend. We are accustomed to thinking of the sacrament of Holy Orders as a sacrament of vocation, a calling from the Lord. One of the great gifts of the Second Vatican Council was to recognize that the sacrament of Marriage is also a vocation from God, as important as Holy Orders, and the way that the largest number of Christians are called to a life of holiness. The path of holiness for married couples is not easy—placing oneself at the service not just of what is best for oneself but for the marriage and family, praying daily for one another, learning to adapt and bend but not break, speaking truth to one another. Please do not doubt that the grace of God is there for you. Please know God’s pleasure in you choosing the vocation of Marriage. I have put a link on our website under the post “News Briefs” for some creative ways for couples to celebrate World Marriage Day.
Next week we will give thanks to God for all who are married. For those who are currently married and for those who have been married but have lost a spouse, please stand and be recognized so that we can ask God to bless you. Thank you.