Published marzo 2, 2006 | Available In English
About 60 of our priests gathered to enjoy the hospitality of the Marist community last Friday. We were there for the annual Mardi Gras dinner that the Marists provide for all the Atlanta priests—with beads and delicious New Orleans cuisine and all! While there was lots of laughter and conviviality, the conversations did, however, include sporadic discussion about the beginning of Lent and the impending extra spiritual activities that this holy season entails.
Most of our parishes will offer special occasions to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Lent, and I applaud all of the efforts of our priests to make this sacrament readily available to our people. Lent is a time when prayer, fasting and works of charity inevitably prepare the heart to seek the Lord’s forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance. In many ways, Lent is the season when most of us think more frequently about this encounter with the Merciful Lord Jesus.
By the time you read this column, we will already have begun the Lenten journey of penance. This week’s Atlanta Journal Constitution will probably have many advertisements from local merchants highlighting the seafood selections in our supermarkets since Lenten Fridays are widely identified with meatless meals. Even in a community like ours where Catholics are not in the majority, our Lenten custom of abstaining from meat on Fridays has its influence. For folks like me who happen to love seafood, such a custom is hardly penance. It’s always important to find a personal penitential activity that reminds us of the need to change our hearts and to redirect them to the Lord.
Penances are not simply about giving something up but about finding a way to transform our hardened hearts and reform them according to God’s design. Whether we choose to abstain from some pleasure or engage in some positive activity of mortification, it is the heart that needs changing in all of our lives.
Lent is also a time for supplementary works of charity because if the heart is made more pliant through our penances, we will inevitably seek to find ways of caring for others in need through behavior that is more generous. Lenten customs of foregoing a pleasure are not an end in themselves but should translate into making us more loving to those who need our mercy and kindness.
The season has a threefold focus—prayer, penance and acts of charity. Each one of these activities is intended to help us to turn over our lives more completely to God’s design.
Lent is also the springtime of the Church when we begin the final steps of preparing our catechumens and candidates to be welcomed to membership in the Church at the Easter Vigil. This season is deeply steeped in the tradition of finalizing the preparation of those who will soon join us at the Eucharistic Table. Over this first weekend of Lent, it will be my great privilege to welcome hundreds of candidates and catechumens into the final stages of their Election as the newest members of our Church family. Please take a moment during the Lenten season to extend a special word of welcome to those who are completing their preparations to join us at the Lord’s Table. They are such wonderful signs of God’s Grace in our midst and of our health as a People of Faith, Hope, and Love.