Shared Effort – Pastor’s Reflection (February 14, 2016)
By training we perceive Lent as our season of personal conversion and we design a program of doing and not doing that is directed to that end. The practice handed on to us is not wrong. When we received ashes on Wednesday we testified to ourselves and our neighbors that we stand in need of conversion. To be penitent in public offers an essential witness to the Gospel, for it testifies not only to personal sinfulness, but to the inexhaustible mercy of God.
But note the context of the ashes. I do not give myself ashes in the privacy of my room: I make a decision to present myself in the midst of the Church to receive them. (I should note in passing that it is not obligatory to receive ashes.) Not only do I confess myself to be a sinner, but we confess ourselves to be sinful.
Lent possesses a deeply corporate character. At one level this is a communion in mutual support. The shared experiences of the season, receiving ashes, Stations of the Cross, abstaining from meat on Fridays, represent communal support for individual endeavor. I find it easier to make the changes I need to make if I know you are all behind me. But these same practices also speak to our shared situation in the sight of God, and in Lent the whole body of Christ, and every part of it, seeks renewal of its faith and practice.
We present God with the patterns of sin we share as a community, and we ask Him to heal and elevate the future that binds us. Here we own the failure to welcome, and the practice of welcoming unevenly. We ask if we, as a group, worried too much about money or have been careless with resources? Has our time at Mass been for focusing on God with a merciful glance at our neighbor, or have we spent the time inspecting our neighbor so as to avoid the intensity of connecting with the invisible God?
But our communal Lent will only be complete if we seek to grow the community in communal virtues. How can we, as a group, be more attentive to God’s Word? Can we open ourselves to more awareness of the poor? Can we give worship a higher priority? Can we become more aware of, and connected to, the global and regional Church? In short, during Lent, will this portion of the Body of Christ seek to be more so? Like any individual Christian, the Community of Christians is never done asking these questions. We never stop growing.
I hope that the work of giving concrete shape to our new parish will, over the next weeks, help us to grow in the shared virtues that will help us give a corporate witness to Christ in this neighborhood.
You will soon receive an invitation at Mass from a fellow parishioner to register as a member of the new parish. This can be a matter of record keeping, or it can be a moment of commitment to a community. Please give us a hearing on this when the time comes.
Following upon relevant talks in Parish Study, we will ask you to engage in a parochial conversation about music as it figures in our worship. Lent will offer the setting for speaking about, and listening about, a most sensitive subject. But what a witness it will be to have the conversation at all.
The Archdiocese has asked us Pastors to review our schedule of Masses. This will entail the most obvious evaluation: do you have enough priests to say the Masses you offer? But this work will also relate the number of Masses to their quality as gatherings of the Church for the Eucharist. Do those who attend a given Mass not only receive communion, but experience it? Finally we will need to place the Masses in context. Do our times of Mass effectively complement, rather than compete with, those of our neighbors?
Since we will not be able to define the scope of our music program without knowing the number and timing of Masses, we will have to take up music and schedule in tandem.
In our individual spiritual lives our exertion and restraint of the body serves to shape and direct our interior disposition. For the group it must be the same. If we take up these works reverently during Lent, I believe we will come to Easter as a communion of souls in truth and in name.
I would not have had the courage to write these words but for the wonderful experience of community I experienced over the past week. Our celebrations of “Candlemas” on February 2, and Mardi Gras on February 6, came about because of the extraordinary generosity of parishioners, but the beauty and warmth of these evenings deepened the reservoir of that same generosity. On February 7, parishioners of St. Catherine’s successfully reflected in common their finances. The candor and charity of the encounter encouraged us all.
In the weeks ahead may you, and we, not lose heart, but keep firm in the way of the Lord Jesus and in the Communion of His Church. His strength will undergird our own.