Now is the time to prepare ourselves to be ready when Lent begins. We often look at Lent as a time in the desert. We are called to the disciplines of prayer, fasting and alms-giving. In many ways Lent is meant to be a time of retreat from what we normally experience. Our Lenten retreat should cause us to reflect upon our relationship to God and how God is working in our lives. We should be asking ourselves, "What can draw me closer to God during this holy season?"
Usually we set the parameters for how our Lenten experience will develop. Sometimes other events play a hand in what direction we focus our Lenten disciplines.
That is the case for me this Lent, and I suspect it will affect some of your Lenten experiences as well. Many of you have probably noticed that we've had one or more Masses each week said for my dad. In part that is because many of my family members and family friends requested a Mass be said after his death. There is another reason why I am saying those Mass requests so quickly. Three weeks ago I received an e-mail from bishop Warfel informing me that I would be moved right after Easter. The bishop had mentioned to me before Thanksgiving that he was considering moving me to plug a hole that would need to be filled when he placed a new pastor at St. Pius in Billings which became vacant with Father Steve Tokarski's death in October. The bishop was planning on appointing a permanent pastor at St. Pius on July 1st and thought I would be a good person to fill the new hole that would be created. Because of a need to move the timing up at St. Pius, the week after Easter I'll be replacing Father Wayne Pittard at St. Mary's in Livingston with responsibility for the parish elementary school and the communities of Big Timber, Gardiner and Clyde Park.
Needless to say, the sadness that I will experience as I start the process of saying good-bye here will have an impact on my Lent this year. This is not to say that I am not looking forward to a new challenge in my new parish assignment. As I've been known to say at funerals, there is a sadness as we say good-bye, but a sense of hope as we look to the future. They are not exclusive.
As we are thinking about the beginnings of Lent your Lenten observances might include additional prayer for our own communities and for yourselves. The last word I had from the bishop is that the Masses between Easter and July 1st will be covered by priests from Great Falls. I'm sure there will be some variety of priests coming for Mass depending upon who is available to say Masses on a given weekend. Maybe one or two will be said by the bishop himself. There may be the appointment of a full-time priest in July. Praying for more holy priests in our diocese during this Lenten season will surly be fruitful as we look to the future.
Fasting, foregoing some good for a greater good, can lead to a deeper spirituality. This past week, while attending the Symposium on the Charism of Priestly Celibacy, the value of fasting was made even more evident. When we are without a good thing because we are focused on a greater good thing, we appreciate all the more the good we have and the greater good as well. I would like to suggest that you consider extra fasting during this Lenten season and pray that the fruit of the fasting may somehow help a priest in his sacred duty to bring Christ to the people.
Alms-giving during Lent could take the form of additional giving to the parish. During the few months without a resident priest the expenses of the parish should go down since the parish will not be paying a salary for a full time priest. This would be an ideal time for the parish to replenish its checking account so that if another priest is assigned there will be money to pay for the related expenses of that priest.
I want to tie in a little with the readings today about forgiveness of sin. Bishop Warfel has asked that we adopt a program that came from Boston -- "The Light is on for You". In an effort to help people make it to confession during this season on Lent, churches around the diocese will be open several evenings during the Lenten season for people to stop and go to confession. For our parishes we'll be open on Tuesdays in Geraldine on the weeks we have Mass there. I'll start confessions after Mass and then stay in the confessional until 8 pm. In Fort Benton, we'll have confession on Thursday evenings except for March 1st and March 15, from 6 pm until 8 pm. You are all invited to come and experience God's healing presence.
This Lent we will truly experience a time in the desert and Easter will bring something new. It is up to us to determine if we will let this season help us grow spiritually to be ready for the new beginning or not. As Lent is about to begin, I ask for your prayers and I'll remember you in mine.