Pastor’s Perspective – March 12

* “Scrutiny Sundays”

The third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent are called “Scrutiny Sundays.” Those who are preparing for an Easter baptism in the Church are asked to turn their entire lives over to God, reject sin and evil, and to be strong in following the way of Christ. They are to be diligent in “scrutinizing” their lives, acknowledging the areas that they know are unhealed or prone to sin. Although we do not have any adult baptism candidates this year, we do have adult candidates who previously have been baptized in a Christian Church and are now preparing for full initiation into the Catholic Church through the Sacraments of Confirmation and First Eucharist at Easter. For them, the Church talks about a “continuing call to conversion.” During these weeks as a Church however, we cannot simply ask others to do such scrutinizing of their lives or examine their call to conversion without doing the same ourselves. The whole Body of Christ joins the elect and candidates in examining our openness to God. In order to emphasize this communal call to repentance, to strengthen our resolve to turn from sin and evil, and to acknowledge that we still have patterns in our lives that tend toward sin, we will invite all who are able to kneel during the Penitential Rite (Kyrie) and slightly lengthen it today and the next two Sundays.

These outward signs, of course, mean nothing, if we are not actively trying to do better in those areas of life. Be thinking of the typical areas or situations of life that can lead you to actions or words that are not life-giving. When we kneel and scrutinize our lives these Sundays, let those situations be what you entrust to the Lord and ask for help.

*Scrutiny Gospels

You will notice that for these Scrutiny Sundays during the Year A Cycle of Sunday readings we have longer Gospel readings, taken from the Gospel of John. You will see these particular Gospel stories lend themselves to a more dramatic proclamation. In fact, much of the Gospel of John is structured as a series of encounters between Jesus and various people or groups. Long dialogues ensue, during which Jesus reveals himself in more and more ways to be fully one with God by using a series of “I Am” images. Up until Jesus, only the Lord God alone dares to name himself that way (in the story of Moses and the burning bush). So sacred is this holy name of God (YHWH in Hebrew) that people of Jewish faith substitute the more generic word for God (Adonai) whenever the scripture has the name YHWH. Now, in John’s Gospel, Jesus takes on that identity as well. In the three passages the Church uses for Lent, Jesus says “I Am the living water,” “I Am the light of the world,” and “I Am the resurrection and the life.” The Gospel goes on to use a number of other “I Am” images, reaching its peak in John 18:5-8, when Jesus responds “I Am” to the question of whether he is Jesus the Nazorean, and all fall to the ground.  Just as Moses fell to the ground in the presence of YHWH at the burning bush, Jesus is not only the Jesus they are looking for, he is the very appearance of God into humanity.

These same three Gospel passages were used in the ancient Church but at times had lost sight of over the centuries.  After the Second Vatican Council, the Church once again began to use them on Sundays as part of the Lenten formation of those preparing for baptism in the Church. Notice how these dialogues from the Gospel of John are beautifully written and always involve a give-and-take on two levels.  On the surface level we hear words like “water” and “light” and “life” and connect to its most obvious, physical meaning, but Jesus is after something deeper. He invites the woman at the well (week three) and the man born blind (week four) and Martha and Mary (week five), as well as his disciples, to trust that Jesus himself is the ‘living water,” the “light of the world,” and“the resurrection and the life.” If we respond to that invitation of Jesus, to look at life in a deeper way, rather than the surface level, and allow Jesus to be all those things for us, we will then truly understand what his mission and ministry are all about. We need a thirst for God that will not be satisfied with anything less than Jesus’ own words to us (week three). We need a desire for enlightenment that will not be blinded by sin or settle for theories that exclude Jesus as the true light (week four). We need a passion for life that will not let death and the ways of death have a final word, always knowing that Jesus is our resurrection and life (week five).

These Scrutiny gospels culminate on the fifth Sunday of Lent with Jesus’ words to the disciples regarding Lazarus, whom he has resuscitated from death: “Untie him and let him go.” If we scrutinize our lives honestly and forthrightly these three weeks, acknowledging our weaknesses and sins, we will be in a better position to hear the words of Jesus as words addressed to each of us and about us. May we let go of the ways we bind others through our words and memories and hurts and lack of forgiveness. May we ourselves experience the freedom of knowing that we are not bound by others’ perceptions of us or how others treat us. We are sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus, the very Son of God. Let us act as such.

* St. Patrick’s Day on Friday. Dispensation from Penance?

When St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday during Lent, we always get a lot of questions about whether someone can be dispensed from the requirement of not eating meat on that Friday (required from 14 years on up, though recommended for all) or from a personal Lenten penance which they have promised to do. When the Archbishop was asked that question on a local radio show, he said that he would leave the dispensation up to the local parish priests, on a case by case basis, rather than issue a general dispensation. Rather than getting a bunch of calls on this matter, here is how I am asking members of St. Regis to handle that issue. For most of us, let us simply keep the Friday abstinence rule, since we will be able to find something other than meat to eat this Friday, even though it is St. Patrick’s Day. Quite frankly, I think it would be good to abstain from meat and keep our Lenten penances no matter what is being celebrated on a particular Lenten Friday. But one, it is never a matter of sinning to switch that penance to another day or choose a substitute form of penance. If you need to, or want to, on St. Patrick’s Day (or any other Lenten day, quite frankly), substitute a different penance or abstain from meat on another day that week. I am sure each of us can find a way to both celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and find a way to keep the spirit of the Lenten season. For that is the point—the spirit of the Lenten season—helping us to re-center ourselves on the Lord, urging us to keep our priorities clear. Remember, sin is not whether we kept the fast and abstinence rules. Sin is when we refuse to change our hearts, when we ignore the needs of others, or when our action or failure to act causes us and others harm. Please, enjoy St. Patrick’s Day; but also, please, keep the spirit of Lent alive in your hearts!

* 60th Anniversary Lenten Mission Follow-Up

Our third big event of the 60th Anniversary Year is now complete—the Parish Lenten Mission. I want to thank all involved in the planning for their shaping of that event, along with those who helped with the greeting, the hospitality, and prayer. For those who were not able to attend, the three evenings were livestreamed and can be viewed on our St. Regis YouTube channel. Links are on the parish website.

Last year, we began our 60th Year celebrations with a special Mass, procession, and gathering on our anniversary date, June 19, which happened to also be the Feast of Corpus Christi. We then had our 60 Hours of Adoration in the fall, and then our Lenten Mission. We will conclude our anniversary year on this year’s Feast of Corpus Christi, the weekend of June 11/12, with “Teaching Masses” at all the weekend Masses, ending with another Corpus Christi procession, like the one we did last year, after the 12 noon Mass.

*Confirmation Interviews

I am beginning my yearly stretch of interviewing all the teens who are candidates for the sacrament of Confirmation. I find that nearly all of them have great hearts, open to service, care for others, and want to do good. The challenge for them, I find, is to connect such attitudes to their Christian faith, to meditate more deeply on the gospels and all that Jesus said and did, and to claim their Christian identity as something core to who they are. Confirmation is a time when the Church asks them to trust that the Holy Spirit will give them the gifts they need for the rest of their lives in order to live out their Catholic Christian faith. Too often they, (and perhaps all of us) rely on the faith of parents and grandparents. We hang onto their coattails and do not commit ourselves as intensely to regular prayer, Mass, Reconciliation, and other practices that give substance to that Catholic faith. We are content with being “good people” but not so intent on being disciples of Jesus and all that means. Confirmation gives these teens a moment in their lives where they can become more intentional in their faith. Please, pray for them.

*Final Word

The three phrases that our Lenten Mission presenters used to guide their reflections are worth repeating, and even use as a prayer mantra: “The Father keeps his promises. The Son is always with us. The Holy Spirit is with us to guide us.”

Fr. Buersmeyer

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