It was a long night last Sunday as I watched the Superbowl with some priest friends. It wasn’t the ending we were hoping for but it was a game to watch. I offer my congratulations to the Eagles and their fans on their first Superbowl victory.
Football season is now over and MLB Spring Training begins soon. But we have a much more important season ahead of us. The Holy Season of Lent begins this Wednesday, February 14th! There has been much discussion about Ash Wednesday as this year it falls on Valentine’s Day!
The observance of Ash Wednesday requires prayer, fasting and abstinence from meat. Valentine's Day, on the other hand, is a day for celebrating romantic love, often by dining out on fancy meals and giving chocolate and expensive gifts to a beloved. It's the first time since 1945 that Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day have fallen on the same date.
As Catholics our observance of Ash Wednesday should take precedence over any Valentine’s Day celebration. There are Catholic roots to Valentine’s Day as it is associated with a Catholic saint and martyr. However, the holiday as celebrated today is a commercial enterprise complete with greeting cards, expensive meals, candy, flowers and people spending millions of dollars.
Ash Wednesday begins our forty days of prayer, fasting and alms giving. Ashes are smeared on our foreheads with the words: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” The act of putting on ashes on foreheads symbolizes fragility and mortality, and the need for repentance. Far from being a merely external act, the Church has retained the use of ashes to symbolize that attitude of internal penance to which all the baptized are called during Lent.
Ash Wednesday is but the opening pitch for forty days of “spiritual spring training,” Lent. The goal is Easter. The hope is that, if we unite ourselves more closely with Jesus on His cross through more fervent prayer, greater charity to others, and sincere penance for our sins through His mercy we’ll be united with Him in His Resurrection.
There is a complete schedule in the bulletin for Ash Wednesday and the Season of Lent at OLM. There are four Masses on Ash Wednesday and they usually see great crowds. Also I ask you to please take up works of charity by supporting the Rice Bowl Collection and the Catholic Charity Appeal.
Rice Bowls are available to take home and place your sacrificial offerings in throughout Lent. This important collection for the work of Catholic Relief Services aids the hungry of the world is taken up on Palm Sunday. The Annual Catholic Charity Appeal which supports the good works of our Diocese is to be taken up on the weekend of February 25th.
Lent is also a time of penance and conversion from sin. Confessions are heard daily Monday through Friday during Lent at OLM. Also an extra guest confessor joins us every Monday night during Lent. On March 24th there are All-Day Confessions at OLM. This Lent make sure to get to Confession!
A penance should be taken up during Lent that might include fasting from some pleasure or comfort in our lives. Giving up something in a sacrificial not superficial way always helps us gain a deeper understanding of Christ’s loving sacrifice for us on the Cross. Also consider taking up some extra daily prayer and committing to a Lenten devotion. With two Daily Masses during Lent we are truly blessed with opportunity to be nourished by the Eucharist. Also the Stations of the Cross are celebrated every Friday and are a great Lenten Devotion. Plan on making the Lenten Mission in March with Monsignor Douglas Cook.
Pope Francis teaches us: “Lent is the favorable season for renewing our encounter with Christ, living in His Word, in the sacraments and in our neighbor. The Lord, who overcame the deceptions of the Tempter during the forty days in the desert, shows us the path we must take.”
So take up your Lenten path with zeal and commitment on Ash Wednesday. Please consider moving your Valentine’s Day to Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) and keep the Lenten Fast on Ash Wednesday! Pray, fast and give alms! Take up your cross and live your Catholic Faith! Do good. Be well. A Blessed Lent!