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 Sunday will 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 throughout Lent.
The 2nd 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 Mass routine.
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 invitations.
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!