Wednesday, February 25, 2009

An Ash Wednesday Message from Fr. Paul


Dear Friends:

I remember growing up and on an evening shortly before Ash Wednesday my mother, from her place at one end of the dinner table, would hush all seven of us kids (something that only took a certain look or a slightly raised hand), and proceed to ask what each of us planned to give up for Lent. Candy was common, specific desserts like ice cream were next, and cartoons were almost too big a sacrifice to make. My mother, a usually very controlled woman (remember, just a look could quiet us all down), was never so exasperated as on one of these occasions when one of her sons, who shall remain nameless, indicated that for Lent he was going give up “hitting my brother.”

It does not take too much reflection to understand that “giving up” something that we should not be doing, or do not really need, in the first place, is no sacrifice. The word “sacrifice” comes from a Latin combination which means “to make holy.” It is sacrifice, and the spiritual lessons learned, that are at the heart of Lent. Today, Ash Wednesday, we sacrifice in outward ways by fasting and abstaining from meat. Throughout Lent we work to allow acts of prayer, penance, and almsgiving, to be further outward signs of our remaking our lives to be more sacred.

Consider how each of these Lenten acts prepares us for Easter. As awkward as it might feel for us at times, prayer is an encounter with Christ – what could be more holy than that. Penance is an act of cleansing, removing that which distracts us from the Christlike around us – what could be more life-giving, more healthy than that. Almsgiving lifts up a world in need in ways that better all. Almsgiving is a source of joy not only for the receiver, but for the giver – a divine joy that is the source of our being truly happy. In a sense, working to be happy, healthy, and holy is a goal of our Lenten journey. Doesn’t that sound very familiar to us at CMH?

As Catholics we are to be an Easter people. As part of the CMH family, we always allow these Lenten acts to penetrate all aspects of our lives. At CMH we strive to ensure a faith-filled environment for our students, which works to make them happy, healthy, and holy. We are very obviously Easter people.

This year, the world’s experience of Lent certainly carries more anxiety and worry than in the recent past. Economic crises, internet scandals, political in-fighting, and even pending changes in archdiocesan leadership, will weigh heavily on us. In trying times such as these there is great benefit in the Lenten acts of prayer, penance, and almsgiving. They are, by definition, actions of sacrificial holiness; they are actions which, when they bring us to an experience of Christ’s own sacrifice, result in our being a people who are happier, healthier, and holier.

Is that not what Easter people are? Is that not what we truly need right now?

Throughout Lent, the entire CMH family – students, faculty, staff, parents, alumni, and past parents – will be in my prayers each day. I ask that you do the same for us. This Lent, make prayer, penance, and almsgiving vivid and outward acts. May you Lenten journey be fruitful.

Our Lady of Memorial, pray for us!

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Fr. Paul Hartmann

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