February 11, 2015
The West Texas Catholic: Bishop Zurek, some thoughts regarding Reconciliation especially as we prepare to usher in the Season of Lent, on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 18.
Bishop Patrick J. Zurek: The one thing I think we need to realize and to be refreshed on, if we don’t already know it, is that all of Lent is a preparation for the celebration of the Easter Vigil. It’s not just a time of preparation for those entering the Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, RCIA, or for the children coming in. It
a time for every single baptized person, as
with these candidates, to look at their own faith and to prepare all these days and weeks of Lent to be able to respond to the presider at the Easter Vigil, to the priest, when we renew our baptismal commitment. “
all the darkness and sinfulness of the world.”
But more importantly, “
I believe in God the Father, the Creator.
I believe in Jesus Christ and in everything regarding the Pascal Mystery—the dying, rising and returning to the Father.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the One who gives life and the one who sanctifies and makes us more godlike. And
I believe in the Church, which is the Living Body of Christ, without which no one can call themselves Christian if they do not participate in the ecclesial, parochial life, in Eucharist and the Sacraments.” The Church is a community; it is the Body of Christ. If we want to be a part of Christ and follow Him, we must be part of His Body.
What concerns me now is this: All the Sacraments are significant. But at certain times, the Church puts an emphasis on one or the other. Eucharist is every Sunday, adoration any time. But Reconciliation, obviously when we need it. The Season of Advent is somewhat penitential, but in particular, the Season of
Lent is totally penitential. When we begin Lent with Ash Wednesday in the middle of February, we come to church to receive the ashes. I would hope this year that when my brother priests and the deacons distribute the ashes, they would use the biblical formula, not the one that reminds of us death and dust, but the one that calls us to conversion and to change our way of life for the future.
Simply put, it is from Mark’s Gospel and very clear what we are called to. We use this formula in the liturgy. “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Repent simply means a turn-around: turning around 180 degrees, turning around to face Christ again, to meet Him face-to-face and to listen to His Gospel and His Words. He calls us to love; He calls us to experience His mercy. But He expects us to love others, to be merciful to others. Lent is the time to examine ourselves. How well are we following Jesus of Nazareth? Matthew and Mark are really clear – Jesus’ public ministry begins with the word
repent–conversion. And then
believe. Change your ways; don’t reflect the world; reflect the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These are basically the love and the mercy motifs to which Pope Francis calls us constantly.
Lent is also a time of bodily fasting and abstinence. We fast to hone our spiritual skills, to realize we may not be following Christ as clearly as we can. Yes, there is human nature, but the grace of Christ can help us overcome that, and it will. So it’s not just abstaining from meat on Fridays and fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday; it’s deeper than that. It’s looking at my moral life–how am I living? Is it consistent with Christ? This fasting may help me to attune myself more to His Gospel, dispose myself to the working of His Spirit within me so that I can reflect Christ more clearly. Then, on Easter at the Vigil or on Easter Sunday I can clearly declare, “I reject evil” and “I adhere
to Christ and I want to follow H
im.” We have two great fast days left in the church; Ash Wednesday is one. The West Texas Catholic will carry the regulations but fast does mean eating less and not gorging oneself at one meal–eating less to show our dependence on the Lord. And practice abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday and every single Friday of Lent. Now I know we have lots of fish fries and in a way they are good for parishes by bringing communities together. They make a few shekels or a few dollars for whoever’s providing it but I have always found it a little odd and a little irritating when it’s advertised as “all-you-can-eat.” It just doesn’t seem to be congruous or consistent with Lent. I know abstinence is not fasting, but gorging is not part of Lent either.
Again, the real purpose is slowly through Lent to constantly examine my relationship to Jesus and in particular how it is reflected in the way I interact with people each day. As we go through Lent, am I changing for the better? Am I more clearly reflecting the love of Christ? Am I being much more merciful and forgiving of others? Am I looking for opportunities to reconcile with people with whom I have not spoken or at whom I may be a little angry, or who are angry with me?
“Change” is the operative word. It’s a time to reflect on Scriptures; it’s a time to go Mass more often. It’s a time to pray more at home, in particular with your family–spouses and children, grandmas and grandpas. It doesn’t matter with whom because it is those encounters with Christ that will change us. Prayer - “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there in your midst.” The reading of Scripture, when it’s done publicly, let’s say in the family, how wonderful it is–Christ is present. In your home, you consecrate each other, consecrate the building and the place where you live also. Do extra good works: go out of your way to do what we call Corporal Works of Mercy. Help people, be more attentive to people who are suffering, who are in need, who lack love. Try to put that into practice. When we ordain a Deacon the Bishop gives the Book of Gospels to him and (in a little different wording, but basically) says: “Read the Scriptures, believe what you read, and practice what you believe.” That’s the bottom line–that we reflect Christ that well.
Lent is a time for sacramental reconciliation. It’s a time to go to Confession. And I would admonish you and encourage you, do not wait for Holy Week. That’s the end of Lent. The best way to begin Lent is with Reconciliation, early, so you get the graces to work through Lent, growing more into the image of Christ.
We have this year a marvelous idea that surfaced among the priests in the Central Deanery, which includes Canyon and the Amarillo area. Every Tuesday
one church will be designated and all the priests of the deanery will be there in the evening to hear confessions. It will be easy to check on the website or in The West Texas Catholic; you will find out which church will have confessions on a particular Tuesday evening. Please do not wait until Holy Week, I will say again. The priests are busy enough during Holy Week. But more importantly let the grace of Christ that comes in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Penance, Confession be operative within you from the very beginning of Lent. Lent should not be looked at as something negative. Lent should be looked at as “polishing our light,” helping it to burn more brightly than ever.
On another occasion, I will share more with you about darkness and light. For now let it suffice to say, Lent is a time to
trim the wick of our flame and let the fire of the Holy Spirit truly burn in our hearts
. Let that light be seen in what we do and let it be heard in the words we pronounce so we can bring light to the darkness of our world. Then we can bring the Risen Lord there, and that, my friends, is the best way for us to prepare for the Feast of Lights, the Easter Vigil and the Resurrection of the Lord Himself.