This week we’ll start Lent.
As if the snow and cold weren’t penance enough!
Lent teaches us a basic truth: we need a Savior.
A lot of our world doesn’t think it needs saving.
Sometimes, we can think that way.
"I’m pretty good—surely good enough for heaven!"
Well, I don’t know.
But I do know what G.K. Chesterton said.
When asked, "what’s wrong with the world?"
he answered: "I am."
Heaven is not this world—aren’t you glad?
Heaven is heaven because it’s 100% saints; nothing else.
You and I have a hard time even picturing what that’s like.
So maybe we’ll need more than a passing grade.
Lent is God’s gift to help us see that need,
and to allow him to make that happen in us.
Of course, we don’t just do that during Lent;
I hope we do it every day.
A good daily habit is an examination of our conscience.
We look back, with the help of the Holy Spirit,
and we ask: what did I do today that was wrong?
And we ask God’s pardon.
We look also for moments of grace:
and we say, "Thank you."
We hear the word, "grace"—what is it?
Grace is God’s own life, poured into our lives;
so we become, through Christ, with Christ, in Christ,
the New Adam, who lives forever.
The first Adam wrestled with temptation and failed.
Jesus Christ came, wrestled with the enemy, and won!
And so, for 40 days, we confront our sins.
We need to know them, to be rid of them:
And we really can be!
That is Amazing Grace.
If we could change on our own, we’d have done it ages ago.
Humanity has cracked the atom; we’ve touched the sky;
but we cannot change the human heart!
Lent is when we admit to ourselves we are powerless:
we ask God to do in us what we cannot do for ourselves.
We have three "tools" for Lent: pray, fast, give alms.
We pray, not to tell, so much, but to hear.
We fast—not to pay for our sins—Jesus already did that.
But because self-denial can transform us like nothing else.
What do we say at the gym? "No pain, no gain."
And, we help others: if our spiritual life is all about
saving ourselves, we may not even do that.
Becoming more like Jesus will mean caring for others.
So, we give to charity; and we practice social justice.
I said a moment ago we all want to go to heaven,
and heaven is only for saints.
Lent is God’s boot camp to make saints;
it’s spring training for the big leagues.
Now, this a moment to say something about Mass.
It’ll be more sober. No flowers, including in the chapel.
A different tone to the music.
As you know, over a year ago, we began learning
the Latin "Lamb of God" prayer;
and I propose we do the same
for the "Holy, Holy" prayer, this Lent.
Many say they like it; a few say they don’t.
Yes, it stretches us.
In any case, you might wonder, why do it?
The Mass—like our lives as Christians—
is the intersection between the ordinary-and-familiar,
and the infinitely mysterious God who bends down
to draw us into the depths of his glory and holiness.
So Mass should be both "familiar"—and "other."
"Down here"—and beyond our reach.
It’s a balance; and in my judgment,
the Church in recent years has done far better
at the "familiar" and contemporary;
not so well at the ancient and timeless.
So—I’m aiming for a little balance.
By the way: our holy father says the same.
Now, just to prove my point about "balance":
there are folks who think this is somehow
contrary to the Second Vatican Council.
Some actually take offense to have Latin used, at Mass,
in the…Roman Catholic Church!
It’d be like going to a synagogue and saying,
"What’s all this Jewish stuff doing around here?"
Here’s what Vatican II actually said, to pastors:
teach people these prayers in Latin, and use them.*
Is that not what we’re doing?
I think the Council’s purpose was for us to remember
who we are, where we came from,
and that we’re part of a Church
that is worldwide and timeless.
Further, my hope is that, once we get past
the "newness" of something so ancient,
we might find we experience the beauty
of chanting those timeless words
in our Church’s ancient language!
In any case, you go to any Mass, anywhere,
there’s always something not to like.
If nothing else, this, too, is an opportunity, like Lent,
to die to self, and to go beyond ourselves.
We begin Lent in the cold and grey of February.
When we come to its end, how different it will be!
May the same be true for each of us!
* Here are two pertinent paragraphs from Sacrosanctum Concilium, aka, The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, from the Second Vatican Council:
36. 1. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.
54. In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue. This is to apply in the first place to the readings and "the common prayer," but also, as local conditions may warrant, to those parts which pertain to the people, according to tho norm laid down in Art. 36 of this Constitution.
Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.