Pastor’s Desk ~ February 18, 2024

Dear Fellow Parishioners,

The Gospels often mention that Jesus taught with authority, and not like the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus himself – with notable exceptions – was often non-directive and non-specific, with phrases like, “Go and sin no more.”

The fullest yet most concise statement of Lenten regulations is found in the Ash Wednesday Gospel, in the words of Jesus himself: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These spiritual prescriptions are specific because, when taken together, they serve as a powerful antidote to what we now recognize as the Seven Deadly Sins, the seven root forms of wrongdoing, Pride perhaps chief among them, followed by Greed, Wrath, Envy, Lust, Gluttony and Sloth.

These healing words of Jesus speak directly to the mysterious unity of mind, body and soul in which we all live, but never fully understand. It is not known how these Lenten practices work, merely that they work.

Finally, perhaps the most important word in the Ash Wednesday Gospel is “When.” Jesus doesn’t say “If you fast” or “If you pray” or “If you give alms…,” he says, “When.” However else we may imagine or observe Lent, these three are not optional.

The Church provides Lenten regulations on fasting and abstinence partly because of the three Lenten commands, fasting is connected to eating, which, unlike the other two, is more often a communal rather than private activity. The regulations provide a general guide which guards against scrupulosity, and makes necessary exceptions for age and those engaged in manual labor.

The ashes are uniquely powerful because, along with the words, “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return,” this sign participates in the very reality it signifies. Absolutely anyone can receive it without condition, from the Pope on down to the youngest child. I found it deeply moving to impose ashes on the foreheads of children who will be alive in 2100, when I will have long since returned to the dust from which I was made. The stark beauty of Lent is that it speaks to all of us, regardless of our age or state in life, of our common yet frail humanity and our need for redemption.


Fr. Bill Donahue

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