Some of us remember the old tradition in our Church of
Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima Sundays. They were the Sundays just before Lent and a
kind of gentle entry into the Lenten season.
I would like to speak to you today in the spirit of those pre-Lent
Sundays as a preparation for our parish Lent this year, which begins on Ash
Wednesday, Feb. 13.
In the first reading of this Sunday, the prophet Isaiah
sings out about the liberation of Israel from its Exile 500 years before Christ. The song he sings to the people wants to put
words like these in God’s mouth: “I told you so, Israel, I told you so! You are free, you are vindicated.” Isaiah describes God’s joy over Israel’s
deliverance as the joy of a boy when he is finally at the altar with the girl he
loves. God says to Israel, “Your named
is changed from ‘Forsaken and Desolate’ to ‘Delight and Married-to-Me.’”
There is a similar theme in our Gospel reading today. It presents the wedding feast of Cana. It is an ordinary wedding, ordinary pretty
much the way life is. And they ran out
of wine, just like life can do sometimes.
Mary speaks to Jesus and Jesus to the waiters. The six stone jars are filled with water and
the water surprisingly becomes wine, an exquisite wine. Now the celebration really begins!
I would like to use these two scriptural images, the one
from Isaiah and the other from Cana, to suggest a program for Lent this year at
St. Joseph Parish.
Where do we find ourselves now? We have a parish history with its ups and
downs. We are in transition, awaiting
our new pastor in July. We’d like to go
from “ordinary” as a parish to a bit more “extraordinary” to begin that new
relationship. Given all that we have
experienced, many of us are looking for a new dawn, for a brighter parish life,
to see promises fulfilled by God that we have been hoping for. We want to hear God lovingly say to us, “I
told you so! I told you so! Look, I have done it for you!”
In the spirit of Cana, we can acknowledge that, in some
sense, we have run out of wine. We want
more for our parish and would like Christ to fill up our stone water jars. So, for the first five Sundays of Lent this
year, we will present to Christ our parish water jars to be filled up. Each water jar will have a name. The first Sunday, the water jar will be called
“Celebration,” which represents our hope for deeper Christian joy among us,
especially as expressed in our Sunday liturgies. The homily on that 1st
focus on “Celebration” and after Communion a parishioner will speak for a few
minutes about the theme from the layperson’s point of view. And that will be the Sunday pattern for us
Sunday of Lent, we will present the water
jar called “Sprucing Up/ Stewardship” to be filled up by Christ. This is about the wonderful gifts of heart
and hand that our parishioners have and that we would like to maximize for our
parish community and beyond. The 3rd
Sunday, it will be the water jar called “Healing,” where we will open ourselves
to being relieved of whatever hurts we may have suffered in the past as a
parish. The water jar of the 4th
Sunday will have the name “Community,” our desire to be a real parish family
where we feel welcome, know one another more and more and come to greater care
for one another. The 5th
Sunday we will present the water jar of “Compassion,” which represents our
outreach to both our suffering parishioners and others beyond our parish
community. Each Sunday, then, a water
jar theme with a homily and lay sharing about it.
Our Lenten hope this year is that Christ will change the
ordinary water in our parish water jars into exquisite new wine that will
gladden our own hearts those of many others around us. We hope that the desire for this new wine
will cause there to be “standing room only” at our Sunday Masses!
Lent always calls us to do penance. We all have our favorite practices of giving
up something like chocolate or drinks or recreational activities. Penances are meant to help us repair our past
and rebuild for our future. We are free
to do the penances we want.
But I would like to ask all the parishioners to take on a
special community penance this Lent, something we will all doing together as a
parish community, all of us, from seniors to juniors. The community penance I ask you to consider is
this: to invite somebody new to Mass each
Sunday of Lent. Can you imagine what
doing such a Lenten penance could mean for the person invited, for our parish
family, for our neighborhood, even for our whole Church and society?
Perhaps you will react to the idea of this kind of
penance. Of course, such a penance is
not easy and may make us uncomfortable.
But isn’t that what penance is about?
The person we invite could be a member of our family who no
longer goes to Mass, a friend or colleague who has stopped practicing the faith
or a person who has asked us about our faith and is seeking a spiritual home. It will be, of course, a gentle invitation,
with no unkindness or arm-twisting. We
cannot guarantee that the person will take us up on the invitation. What matters is that he or she is
invited. And we must be ready to
accompany the person we are inviting, even if it means changing our own Sunday
The parish will provide classy brochures to all the
parishioners that express what our parish is about. You can support your invitation by handing
the person the brochure. Even if a person declines the invitation, you may be
planting a seed for some future decision that will change a life and perhaps
more than one.
Part of our parish Lenten observance will include a Parish
Mission in mid-Lent to be preached by a Crosier Father. The Parish Mission will highlight important
aspects of what Church means.
The Knights of Columbus will continue offering coffee and
donuts after the Masses on Sunday, making efforts to be especially welcoming of
our invited guests. The parish will also
continue its Friday night Fish Fry and the Stations of the Cross.
Since there is still time before Lent begins, there will be
reminders about our parish Lenten program in the bulletin and with
announcements at weekend Masses.
Everyone is encouraged to begin thinking now about his or her “guest
list of five,” so that by Ash Wednesday we all have our plans for our
Our great hope as the Parish of St. Joseph this Lent is to
know joy like the Prophet said God had over the liberation of Israel, the joy
of a boy finally at the altar with the girl he loves. We hope for new wine to gladden our own
hearts and the hearts of many others. We
hope for a stronger parish in the future.
Great Lent, great Easter!