Lent can provide a time of healing

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WASHINGTON — When Lent begins March 6, U.S. Catholics will likely be more than ready for it.

 

This set-aside time for prayer and reflection — after all the church has been through in recent months — could provide both a healing balm and a needed boost forward, some say.

 

Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, is typically a big Catholic draw, filling churches with nearly Easter or Christmas-size Mass crowds even through it is not a holy day of obligation. Conventual Franciscan Father Jude DeAngelo, director of campus ministry at The Catholic University of America in Washington, hopes this year is no exception.

 

"We in the American Catholic Church have been through a year of tremendous suffering and tremendous upheaval and frustration" he said, referring to the past months of allegations of sexual misconduct and cover-up by church leaders.

 

The priest said some Catholics stopped going to church, "scandalized by the actions of a few" but that he hopes and prays they come back on Ash Wednesday, a day he described as a strong "reminder that God is never finished with us."

 

"Ash Wednesday is that moment, I believe, especially this year, when we can say: 'This is my church. It's got its sins – it always has had its sins and sinners – but Christ calls me to convert my life to his image and likeness and that call is not for individuals only, it's for the entire community.'"

 

By its very nature, Lent has an overall aspect of penitence to it, but that shouldn't override the whole season, said Paulist Father Larry Rice, director of the University Catholic Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

 

His recommendation for this year's Lent is "to do what the church has always asked us to do: prayer, fasting and almsgiving" and that concentrating on those things will bring people closer to God and one another.

 

"I think it's important to make some distinctions that might rescue Lent for people this year," he said, noting that it's not "supposed to be about sorrow, sadness or anger, which people are justifiably feeling," in the current church climate. "That is not what Lent is about," he said, stressing that it should be a personal preparation for Easter.

 

The 40 days, especially this year, also shouldn't be an effort of "muscular Christianity" or "pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps" to do Lenten practices, he said. Instead, it offers a time for Catholics to say: "Wow, we have completely hit bottom and we have to depend on God's grace to build us up again."

 

Father Rice said a lot of bishops have called for a year of reparation for the abuses committed by people representing the church, an action that has caused some misunderstanding among Catholics who say: "Why do I have to do it? I didn't do anything wrong?"

 

And they are right, he said, noting that penance is what people do to show sorrow for what they've done, while "reparation is what you do to show sorrow for what someone else has done which opens the community to God's healing grace."

 

This Lent, "we don't put reparation on hold, we just get to do both" – personal penance and reparation, he said.

 

 

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019