Friday, March 21, 2014

@CardinalDolan: You CAN have a "used to be" Lent!

TO: Most Rev. Timothy J. Dolan
FROM: Anthony S. Layne
SUBJ: A "Used-to-be" Lent
DATE: March 21, 2014

Your Eminence:

Every now and again I get a chance to read your blog posts. Ordinarily, I come away from reading them refreshed, challenged and encouraged. In the main, you strike me as a successor to the apostles who is positive and embracing but not afraid to be a "sign of contradiction", a bishop who embraces the role of shepherd over that of administrator.

However, yesterday's offering, "A 'Used-to-be' Lent", left me dissatisfied; it struck me as almost a whine. And I don't take you for the whining type.

Let me give you an example of what I mean:

So, for instance, I’m at a great parish in the archdiocese and notice that they’re having a big dance on ... the first Friday of Lent!
So, I’m at a huge banquet for over a thousand men, mostly Catholics, where the liquor flows and the steaks are medium-rare on ... a Friday of Lent!
So, I’m at Mass in a parish where they sing the Gloria and have alleluias all over the place on ... a Sunday of Lent!
I admire how our Jewish neighbors take their “high holy days” in the fall so seriously, especially the days of penance, fasting, and contrition ...
Our Islamic neighbors fast all day and deepen their prayers for a month at Ramadan ...
And here, my Catholic people write me for a “dispensation” on one of the six measly Fridays we’re asked to abstain from meat (big sacrifice these days!), if they even bother with the dispensation at all.
Am I being too gloomy here?  You know me well enough to realize I’m hardly puritanical or a crab.  All I’m asking is:  have we lost Lent?  Is it all now nostalgia, a museum piece, in the attics of our souls, as we tell our kids and grandkids how Lent “used-to-be”?
Lent didn’t just used to be . . . it’s needed now more than ever!

Yes, you're right — Lent is needed now more than ever. And you can have it again ... if you make it a priority. I'll tell you how:

My parish introduced just last year Friday fish fry nights. We also re-introduced Friday stations of the cross, during which our pastor exposes the Eucharist for adoration. We re-introduced Eucharistic Adoration some time ago, and it's becoming more frequent and for longer times as the devotion grows. These things are happening here because our pastor, Fr. George, enthusiastically embraces them. Behold, I tell you a mystery: Although our Knights of Columbus council runs the fish fries, they weren't our idea — they were Fr. George's!

The secret is in your parish priests. They're the ones who must remind us in the congregation that 1) Lent is a season of penitence, and 2) we do indeed have sins to repent. So long as your priests are unwilling or afraid to tackle the hard teachings of the Church, especially the Last Things, your flock will treat Lent as an anachronism, an heirloom from the "bad ol' pre-Vatican II Church" that no one wants yet no one knows how to get rid of.

In a stupendous talk given to his brother priests, Fr. Bill Casey, CPM, quotes the Venerable Servant of God Archbishop Fulton Sheen as saying, "Strong love makes strong actions, and the measure of our zeal in bringing souls to the feet of Christ is the measure of our love for him." He also noted that, "In fifteen years on the road, the Catholics that I have met have told me that they are sick and tired of lukewarm, watered-down Catholicism." Superficial preaching makes for superficial Catholics, the "cafeteria Catholics" we hear about so much.

Yes, there are a lot of lukewarm Catholics who need to be the first targets of the New Evangelization. But even before them, we need to do something about the lukewarm Catholic priests who are too afraid of offending modern sensibilities to preach the gospel in its entirety. No one has yet done a study on the matter, but from the anecdotal evidence I pick up, it's clear that the more orthodox and more zealous the priest is, the more butts they get in the pews, and the more demand they get for the traditional devotions — such as meatless Fridays.

With due respect, Your Eminence, if the traditional Lent is that important to you — and it should be — then you really do know what to do: Light a fire under the butts of your priests! Inspire, cajole, remonstrate, holler, make a scene — whatever you need to do to get them motivated and excited! Demand of them what they're going to do about getting their parishes into observing Lent; set goals; get a campaign going on the diocesan level ... whatever it takes to drum it into your presbytery's collective head that you're serious about this!

It can be done, Your Eminence. But you need to want it done. In closing, I dare to remind you that as a successor to the apostles, it's your job to lead and guide your flock. Don't just sit there and wait for us to start wandering in the general direction of where we ought to go — get out in front and lead us!

As an aside: before I wrote this, I ate a tuna salad sandwich. May God be with you, my dear Cardinal.
Prayerfully in Christ,
Anthony S. Layne

P.S.: Here's a video of that splendid talk by Fr. Casey: