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Announcements ~ 7 April 2019

fleur cross logo Our Parish Penance Service is THIS Tuesday, April 9 at 6:30pm, a time that we will have sixteen priests (English and Spanish) who will be here for you. Please plan to come.  + Martes, 9 de abril.  Unanse a nosotros para un servicio especial que incluye confesión individual rápida y absolución.  Favor mirar el boletín.
 
fleur cross logo Please find the Sacred Triduum schedule for Holy Week on page 7 of today’s bulletin.  During this period of three holy days, we ask that regular parish activities be suspended and everyone try to come as much as possible to our liturgies.
 
fleur cross logo Our progress in the Bishop’s Lenten Appeal seems to have stalled out a bit in recent weeks.  We are at about 85% of our goal with 22% of our families participating.  We have a ways to go in our obligation to the diocese. Please, if you plan to make a pledge to the BLA, make it quickly and we will be able to finish strong in our support of the many people who rely on this collection for programs and services.
 
fleur cross logo Make All Things New Capital Campaign Kicks Off
This weekend marks the official launch of the Saint Bernadette Make All Things New Capital Campaign to raise funds so we can build a new parish hall, add an elevator for accessing the church and parish offices, and renovate the current office building. After Mass in the vestibule, look for volunteers wearing the “Ask Me about our Capital Campaign” badge. They will be there to answer any questions you may have about the campaign.
 
fleur cross logo Saint Bernadette’s new subscription to Word on Fire’s ENGAGE is your doorway to all the Word on Fire materials: text ‘saintbern’ to 84576 to join our parish account and receive updates and notices of what is happening in our parish community!
 
fleur cross logo Easter Flower Memorials Available - Remember someone you love, either living or deceased, with a donation for our beautiful Easter Flowers. Envelopes are available in your envelope packets, in the Church and in the Parish Office. The deadline for the listing in the bulletin is Palm Sunday.
 
fleur cross logo Again this year, when we proclaim the Gospels of the Lord’s Passion on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, the part of the crowd will be read by one of lectors, not by the assembly.  In this way all can be attentive to the entire Gospel.

Fr. Don's Weekly Letter ~ 7 April 2019

Dear Good People of Saint Bernadette,
 
As you know, next weekend is Palm Sunday.  It is time that all of Christendom pauses, in memory of our Savior, who died for us.  Believers pause, even if but for a moment of silence, to remember this complete loving act, the One who gives up his life for his friends.  Believers whose faith is strong unite in him as well as those whose faith is weak.  For this moment, it doesn’t matter, we don’t matter; it is only that we find ourselves in him, who makes this perfect act of love, dying so that we might live.  The Father’s plan is fulfilled.  The love of the Son is the visible reality of the love of the Father.
 
We are confronted with this infinite love which we did nothing to earn or deserve.  Even though the world wants us to believe that somehow we deserve what we want, we know down deep that this is all God’s work.  All we must do is receive his love in humility and return his love by the fruitfulness of our lives.
 
At this moment I am attending the National Workshop on Christian Unity.  We joined together at the Old Cathedral of Saint Louis under the arch in Saint Louis, Missouri at the side of the Mississippi River tonight, peoples of over a dozen Christian ecclesial communions, to praise and give thanks to God in Christ, and to ask him to deliver us from ourselves. 
 
You see, when we begin to claim credit for this saving work of Jesus our selfishness leads us away from the truth, into some version of our imagination. We can begin to convince ourselves we determine the truth.  Suddenly my truth doesn’t match yours.  We put our logo on the Word of God and start making distinctions and define ourselves by differences which, though having defined a difficult and complicated history of corrupt motives, may not be Church-dividing, they are individual-dividing.  When our understanding doesn’t match what we are told is true, doubt enters that threatens our autonomy, our identity.  The world tells us (and all 12 year-olds) to go with our gut, and not with a position of humility which might lead us back out of ourselves to God.  Schism is caused by a lack of humility on both sides.
 
At our prayer service tonight I looked around me.  All these people with a beautiful faith in Jesus, people baptized just like me, people who come together to do something about the pain of separation and division.  We know Jesus’ prayer at/after the Last Supper (Jn. 17) makes it clear what Jesus’ will is fulfilling the Father’s plan.  That we might be one, as he and the Father are one, so that the world might believe that the Father sent him.  He knows what to pray for; he knows what the Father wants to give us.  He would not pray for what is not possible, or not the will of his Father.  Unity.
 
Have you noticed?  All the prayers around the consecration and following it are for unity and peace.  We pray for it, too, it is the keystone of the Mass, so that all might come to full, visible Communion, to taste and see the goodness of the Lord.  It was the keystone of our prayer service tonight in Saint Louis, Missouri as we came together to pray in whatever way possible that we might bring on this new Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit will restore to full stature the Body of Christ, which he came to bring together.
 
I imagine all of us—Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopalian, Baptist, United Church of Christ, American Methodist Episcopal, Pentecostal, Evangelical—the list goes on and on—reflecting on this Passion narrative of Jesus on Palm Sunday, united in our love for Jesus and sorrow in our participation in his Passion.  He died for us.  We are called to give ourselves in the same way for each other, and the divisions of denomination can’t deny the truth of devotion or the spirituality of living as true members of his Body.  Of course, I believe that the fullness of truth is found in our full Tradition.  Still, a spectrum of faithfulness exists within our own Catholic Church with all its divisions, and we must acknowledge that true faith is not limited to the Roman Catholic observance, that God’s grace will not be limited by our individualism or our division to protect our privilege of “place.”
 
This is one of the best reasons I can give for wanting our assembly not to be limited to the part of the “angry crowd” who calls for Jesus’ crucifixion in the Gospel narratives of Palm Sunday and Good Friday.  I want people to take ownership of our sin, yes, but I also want you equally to identify with the words of Jesus himself, who you really are.  Why is the priest the only the one who gets to read the part of Jesus?  These “script narratives” were only an experiment in the 70s, anyway, and I think the test of time has led us to realize that reading the Gospel like a morality play is not that helpful. 
 
Join with me this Holy Week: we are here not to be onlookers or observers.  The Mystery of Christ is happening within us; we are the Body, judged, tortured, crucified, and glorified.  We are not called to be followers; we are called to be CHRIST.  May our love reflect his mercy and loving kindness for all.

God bless you.
 

Announcements ~ 31 March 2019

fleur cross logo Easter Flower Memorials Available - Remember someone you love, either living or deceased, with a donation for our beautiful Easter Flowers. Envelopes are available in your envelope packets, in the Church and in the Parish Office. The deadline for the listing in the bulletin is Palm Sunday.
 
fleur cross logo Today’s Second Collection is for the annual second for Catholic Relief Services (CRS). Catholic Relief Services is the official international relief and development agency that assists the poor and vulnerable in more than 100 countries on behalf of the Catholic Community in the United States. Your gift helps miracles happen. Thank you for your support and generosity.
 
fleur cross logo Saint Bernadette’s new subscription to Word on Fire’s ENGAGE is your doorway to all the Word on Fire materials: text ‘saintbern’ to 84576 to join our parish account and receive updates and notices of what is happening in our parish community!
 
fleur cross logo Our progress in the Bishop’s Lenten Appeal seems to have stalled out a bit in recent weeks.  With the initial totals in, we are still holding at about 75% of our goal with 22% of our families participating.  We have a ways to go in our obligation to the diocese. Please, if you plan to make a pledge to the BLA, make it quickly and we will be able to finish strong in our support of the many people who rely on this collection for programs and services. BLA funds are restricted gifts that provide many programs, services and ministries that serve people in need, and may not be used for any other purpose. Don’t forget every new donor or gift over last year’s gift will be matched by a challenge gift.  
 
fleur cross logo Our Parish Penance Service will be Tuesday, April 9 at 6:30pm, a time that we will have at least sixteen priests (English and Spanish) who will be here for you. Please plan to come.  + Martes, 9 de abril.  Unanse a nosotros para un servicio especial que incluye confesión individual rápida y absolución.  Favor mirar el boletín.

Fr. Don's Weekly Letter ~ 31 March 2019

Dear Good People of Saint Bernadette,
 
Last week I got together for lunch with a good friend, a leader in the Hindu community in Fairfax County.  We are planning some kind of event, not sure exactly what we will do yet, some sort of dialogue of beliefs and culture so that our communities can get to know each other better.  We were talking about what a good topic might be for us to consider for our talks.
 
I suggested that we talk about how youth are not continuing with religious practices.  You see, it is not only a Catholic problem, it is a human problem that stretches across all religions.  Humanity has lost its identity as being related to the divine.  For us, humanity is charged with the divinity of Christ.  For Hindus, the divine is present in all people, really, all things.  How can we desire what we no longer know?  If there is no Authority beyond my ego, why would I consider that there might be more?  He agreed.  Few young people go to temple, much the same as Mass.
 
He then suggested that we might talk about how we have allowed others to undermine our religious identity.  Apparently in India the situation of Hindus is dire in their relationships with Muslims and Buddhists.  In many cases, Evangelical Christianity has also done what they can to damage the ancient culture of the Hindu people.  Hinduism, he says, is characterized primarily by certain stereotypes which have been twisted without seeking any understanding about their historical or social origins.  I nodded.  Catholicism has been stereotyped even by many Catholics on opposite sides of internal divisions, not to mention those who actively seek to do damage.  We are defined today by the sins of some, which are terrible but not faith defining.  If anything, they outline a kind of bankruptcy resulting from a lack of faith.  My friend said that we Hindus and Catholics have begun to identify more with the ways others define us because our roots are not deep and we don’t know how to articulate the mysteries of our own faith when criticized.  He said that many young Hindus are ashamed to be Hindu.  I nodded.
 
I suggested we start with something a little less difficult.  What about the way we treat each other today?  Where does this anger flash originate and who said it was okay?  I was thinking at the time about the reaction we have gotten from many about a recent request to update our database.  You see, we just wanted to reach out to anyone in the parish who might not be confirmed to offer the opportunity.  Yes, we keep very careful sacramental records in handwritten books, recorded and to be kept for generations, for hundreds of years.  We record every sacrament, but it has never been doubly recorded in the digital database of the parish.  We did a database search, and sent out 3,800 letters to people for whom we had no record of confirmation, to make it available and encourage.  Also, many families still list their adult children as members.  I’m thinking we have a lot fewer members than are shown and it’s time for a clean up.
 
But it was the flash reaction of indignation and anger on the part of some that made me wonder:  why is this now the way we respond to each other?  And who said it was okay?  We automatically expect the worst and can be so disrespectful of each other.  My friend said that he thinks that people have become so impersonal making the majority of their communication in electronic form that we no longer realize we are speaking with a person.  Some kind of mental construct.  Eventually, he said, the internet trolls will come out into the light of day and we will realize how far we have come (or not).  It will be a world of Hindu and Catholic trolls. 
 
Based on the readings for this Sunday, I asked him if, in the context of all these topics, we might consider a discussion of how we come to know these things as truth, we recognize that we are not living up to our full potential (in our case, as God calls us to live), and how do we heal?  How do we say we are sorry?  Do we say we are sorry?  “Father, I no longer deserve to be called your son, treat me as one of your hired hands.”
 
The prodigal son, knowing his Father, counts on at least a job in the barn.  He awakens in a pig sty far away and realizes how far away he truly is.  There is a faint memory of when things were better, and he gets up and starts moving.  His Father, who was watching (for how long?  years?), sees him coming finally at the end of the road and runs, embraces, restores.
 
The story requires (1) knowledge of mercy, (2) a memory of something better, (3) real contrition and humility, and (4) a getting up and going.  I wonder, today, if these things are part of the common experience of life for people in our culture or even Church?  Such basic human experiences seem to be extra-ordinary items for so many who haven’t had such things passed on to them by their parents, or maybe weren’t paying attention when they were.
 
God bless you.
 

Announcements ~ 24 March 2019

fleur cross logo Easter Flower Memorials Available - Remember someone you love, either living or deceased, with a donation for our beautiful Easter Flowers. Envelopes are available in your envelope packets, in the Church and in the Parish Office. The deadline for the listing in the bulletin is Palm Sunday.
 
fleur cross logo Saint Bernadette’s new subscription to Word on Fire’s ENGAGE is your doorway to all the Word on Fire materials: text ‘saintbern’ to 84576 to join our parish account and receive updates and notices of what is happening in our parish community!
 
fleur cross logo The Bishop’s Lenten Appeal is coming to fulfillment and we are asking every household in our parish to support this appeal to the extent you are able. BLA funds are restricted gifts that provide many programs, services and ministries that serve people in need, and may not be used for any other purpose. Don’t forget every new donor or gift over last year’s gift will be matched by a challenge gift.  Thank you for responding so quickly.  Once our goal is met we may begin our own parish Capital Campaign!
 
fleur cross logo Our Parish Penance Service will be Tuesday, April 9 at 6:30pm, a time that we will have at least eighteen priests (English and Spanish) who will be here for you. Please plan to come.  + Martes, 9 de abril.  Unanse a nosotros para un servicio especial que incluye confesión individual rápida y absolución.  Favor mirar el boletín.

Fr. Don's Weekly Letter ~ 24 March 2019

Dear Good People of Saint Bernadette,
 
Lent is all about fasting, prayer and almsgiving.
 
Having spoken about fasting and prayer in the two last bulletins, we turn now to the topic of almsgiving this week.  Our parish 40 Hours of Eucharistic Adoration and Parish Mission last week was really a time of palpable grace for our parish family, thanks to all who made it such a huge success.  As you know, many effects of grace are realized later when God knows we are ready.  So much groundwork was done for our parish family last week, and we will be better for it, if we aren’t already.
 
“Giving” is one of the gifts which might be received at baptism, as we learn in the Called and Gifted Program.  It is relatively rare, apparently, or else people are so saturated with the world they are completely unaware that they have it.  A person who has received the gift of Giving doesn’t ask (like most of us do), “How much must I give?”  She or he asks, rather, “How much do I really need to keep?”  A person who gives needs a lot of trust, and a humility that recognizes that we don’t identify ourselves by what we have, but by what we have given to others.  This is not just money I’m talking about, it is about precious hours in the day, and about sharing the things that you can use to actually make another person’s life better rather than your own.
 
We get a glimpse of what Christianity looked like in the years immediately following the Resurrection of Jesus in the account of the Acts of the Apostles.  People lived in community, sharing all they had in common, providing for those in need with the resources of all.  People would literally bring what they had and lay it at the feet of the Apostles, who would figure out how it could be best used to provide charity and well being to others, regardless of their affiliations.
 
Think of it logically:  we cannot be a community that calls ourselves Christian if we are not a community that gives of ourselves.  It would be a lie.
 
Early Christianity might seem like socialism to many.  Such a system of socialism seems to be impractical, even dangerous because such social systems have been established and taken advantage of by corrupt and ruthless dictators.  The state becomes more important than the value of the life of the individual or even the life of the community. 
 
But in the system of the Apostles, there was no power involved.  Everyone remained humble, people lived in peace as equals.  The only thing that still exists today that is faithful to this “new way” of Jesus is religious life.  Communities of Sisters, Priests and Brothers who have no goal but to love and serve God, and exercise their respective charisms for the good of the apostolate, whether that be education, development, caring for the afflicted or helping the poor.  Great religious orders throughout the history of western civilization such as the Benedictines, Franciscans and Jesuits have always lived with all things shared in common, with no personal property and no agenda other than the purpose of their Order or community to serve God in his creation.
 
I wonder how that happens in our lives who are not committed personally as men and women religious are?  Just because we haven’t made a vow of poverty (diocesan priests don’t, either) does that give us license to be rich?  To keep all that we can and build up barns to storing all we can?  To live in this world without regard to the Lazaruses that sit outside our door in the dirt, waiting for someone to be kind?  Jesus is clear.  Even to give a glass of water to one who is thirsty is enough not to lose your reward. 
 
The thing is, the more you do it, the more you do it.  It becomes a part of your personality, even identity, to be generous.  It starts with kindness, maybe nothing more than a smile, and grows into greater and greater contributions of yourself to others and the community.  A personal transformation is underway.
 
For this reason almsgiving, classically understood as providing sustenance to the poor, is considered one of the greatest works of penance (instruments of personal conversion) for the season of Lent as well as throughout the year.  We make a sacrifice of something significant, so that the gift actually means something to us, too.  And the person who receives our generosity will, in turn, glorify God in their own way.
 
Giving makes reparation for the sins we ourselves have committed, as well as builds virtue enabling us to live a life more faithful to the Gospel.  It gives another hope, and reveals to others the way that Jesus went about doing good and helping provide the healing and peace that was, and is today, so needed.  Our lives become living Gospels, even without necessarily needing to use the words.
 
God bless you.
 

Announcements ~ 17 March 2019

fleur cross logo Beginning tonight (Sunday) - Join us for 40 Hours of Adoration and 3 evenings of parish mission talks - see page 7 for the full schedule as well as the schedule for Lent confessions and liturgies for Lent and Holy Week.  Mark your calendars for our  Parish Lenten Penance Service on Tuesday, April 9 at 6:30pm.  Start preparing now with an examination of conscience - see p. 9.

fleur cross logo Easter Flower Memorials Available - Remember someone you love, either living or deceased, with a donation for our beautiful Easter Flowers. Envelopes are available in your envelope packets, in the Church and in the Parish Office. The deadline for the listing in the bulletin is Palm Sunday.

fleur cross logo This year, for Masses on the Sundays (and Saturday evenings) of Lent, instead of singing a closing song, at the end of Mass we will have silence after we are sent forth and during the procession of the priest and ministers. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are traditional disciplines that we intensify during Lent. Many parishes have found that having silence at the end of Mass is a way of extending the fast beyond food: another way of reducing and simplifying. Then when Easter comes, our richer musical fare will reflect our Paschal joy as we return to our custom of singing a closing song.

fleur cross logo Saint Bernadette’s new subscription to Word on Fire’s ENGAGE is your doorway to all the Word on Fire materials: text ‘saintbern’ to 84576 to join our parish account and receive updates and notices of what is happening in our parish community!
 
fleur cross logo The Bishop’s Lenten Appeal is coming to fulfillment and we are asking every household in our parish to support this appeal to the extent you are able.
The BLA funds are restricted gifts that provide many programs, services and ministries that serve people in need, and may not be used for any other purpose. Don’t forget every new donor or gift over last year’s gift will be matched by a challenge gift.  Thank you for responding so quickly.  Once our goal is met we may begin our own parish Capital Campaign!

Fr. Don's Weekly Letter - 17 March 2019

Dear Good People of Saint Bernadette,

Lent is all about fasting, prayer and almsgiving.

Having spoken about fasting in last week’s bulletin, it seems timely to work on the topic of prayer this week, especially since we begin our parish 40 Hours of Eucharistic Adoration and Parish Mission, when all of the talks on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evening are going to be about prayer.

On Sunday night I am going to reflect on the presence of God in Sacred Scripture and about how, even though the world approaches the Bible as a text book, it has been since the beginning a prayer book.  It is, I believe, the most powerful form of prayer.  Why?  Because the words are not our own.

Just think about it.  Really God’s words.  It makes you wonder how there can be so many who don’t listen to them.
 
When I talk about prayer with people (I used to have more time for providing spiritual direction and prayer is definitely an important topic for directees) it has been my overwhelming experience that prayer is patrick 03(1) the most difficult topic for most Catholics who find themselves frustrated about not knowing how to do it and (2) the number one reason that people give up practicing faith.  It seems dry, or pointless.  I don’t get what I ask for—why should I keep trying?  Is God listening to me?  Or is this some kind of endurance test?  This endless repetition—how many times does God need to hear the same prayers over and over?

Actually, if you think about it, our prayer can’t be any more enjoyable for God than it is for us.  If he truly wishes us to have joy, how can it be that prayer is one of the most unjoyful experiences that people have?  He is not happy that we are miserable.

Well, I don’t want to give away my talk Sunday night, but it is enough to say that the way we learned to pray as children is not going to satisfy us as adults.  As children it is already easy to get absolutely bored.  But if you recall, when the disciples asked Jesus how to pray he didn’t say, “When you pray, repeat these words...”  He said, “This is how you are to pray.”  And then the words welled up from within his heart with expressions of praise, hope, petition and trust, and contrition.  All forms of prayer are wrapped up in these few lines.  I don’t think it was ever his intention that we memorize it and rattle it off over and over as we do.  He wanted the words to well up from within us, the movement of love and trust, of entrustment and joy and praise.
 
People say (always) that they are uneasy about prayer because they guess they didn’t learn how to do it, or never somehow figured it out.  I tell them the first error they have is that prayer isn’t something we do.  It is not a doing, it is a simple being with God.  Ah, the simplest things are often the hardest because we have made ourselves so complicated.  Remember—we must become like children.  But not bored children.

Prayer is not a series of doing deals with God.  God, if you heal my sickness I’ll treat my brother better.  Well, first of all, we are offering God a carrot that he is owed already.  It is not a conversation of equals.  Trading favors.  Jesus says to the disciples you do not get what you ask for because you ask wrongly.  Prayer is not a pleading to get God to do what we want.  It is, rather, an attentiveness to him so that we will know what he wants.  You see, prayer is, afterall, about him.

If in a moment of clarity if we could even begin to grasp the enormity and sheer excellence of God, we would realize that there is only one appropriate activity in his presence.  To be still, and listen.  His word is everythingHis words are spirit and life.  A double-edged sword that lays bear the truth of our hearts to us.  And our falseness.  He reveals to us who we are, only when we stop making all the noise and realize that God’s own existence is love to be shared.  A relationship that must include a beloved.  Of course, his only begotten Son is his Beloved, but that same love has incorporated us into himself, and we, too are the Beloved.  He pours himself out so that we might have life.  And the key to unlocking this life is in his living Word, the Word made flesh who dwells among us.

Monday night Fr. Rich will present on the Eucharist and how we can grow through prayerful stillness in the life of God, a prayer we call adoration.  God calls us to the altar of his Word, and the Body of Christ, somehow one Mystery, just as we think of Holy Thursday and Good Friday as one reality.  Now is the time of fulfillment for Saint Bernadette.

Tuesday night we will wrap all of this up in a talk about the Mass, where Word and Sacrament become the foretaste of heaven and the source of salvation for the world. 

God bless you.

Announcements ~ March 10, 2019

fleur cross logo This year, for Masses on the Sundays (and Saturday evenings) of Lent, instead of singing a closing song, at the end of Mass we will have silence after we are sent forth and during the procession of the priest and ministers. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are traditional disciplines that we intensify during Lent. Many parishes have found that having silence at the end of Mass is a way of extending the fast beyond food: another way of reducing and simplifying. Then when Easter comes, our richer musical fare will reflect our Paschal joy as we return to our custom of singing a closing song.
 
fleur cross logo Saint Bernadette’s new subscription to Word on Fire’s ENGAGE is your doorway to all the Word on Fire materials: text ‘saintbern’ to 84576 to join our parish account and receive updates and notices of what is happening in our parish community!
 
fleur cross logo The Bishop’s Lenten Appeal is in full swing and we are asking every household in our parish to support this appeal to the extent you are able. The BLA funds many programs, services and ministries that serve  people in need. Don’t forget every new donor or gift over last year’s gift will be matched by a challenge gift. We are waiting to learn of our progress this week.

fleur cross logo Inclement weather policy: Saint Bernadette Parish and School follows the Fairfax County School System regarding closings for snow and other inclement weather. An announcement will be made even on Saturdays and Sundays because the school buildings are used for extracurricular and community activities on the weekends. Please take this policy into account when scheduling use of Parish facilities during winter months.

Fr. Don's Weekly Letter - March 10, 2019

Dear Good People of Saint Bernadette,

Lent is all about fasting, prayer and almsgiving.

Lent is not, however, about introducing a void in your life: fasting from food or abstaining from meat on Fridays of Lent isn’t about being hungry for the sake of being hungry. I think sometimes people think that we have to do these things because God thinks that suffering is good for us and he wants us to suffer. No wonder so many people don’t believe in God anymore! Life is enough of a refining fire that I don’t think we need to arbitrarily add more suffering.

Still, we can see that suffering and death of Jesus was the instrument God used to bring about the redemption of mankind: Man was lost and the only remedy was to give himself back to God, but he was unable. So God stepped in and, as one of us, literally took care of it for us, in our own place. As so many prefaces in the Mass say, the cause of our downfall, humanity, was itself the cure in Jesus Christ, our Lord.

We must also acknowledge that—and I do believe this, that most people are good and trying to do the right thing—God doesn’t really get our full attention unless we find ourselves in a tight spot, facing a serious circumstance like illness, or when we experience the reality of loss in our lives. Even if we pray regularly or often, the intensity of our prayer multiplies when we are in dire need. Food always tastes better when you are really hungry. As my mom always used to say, hunger is the best sauce. Being hungry makes us less concerned about the taste of the food, and more grateful to receive it. Obviously, we draw the parallel of this to the spiritual life. You can’t experience resurrection without death. Somehow, we must acknowledge our sinfulness and know contrition (being sorry for what we have done) in order to grasp the reality of forgiveness.

Our world doesn’t forgive anymore, does it? One’s transgressions are revealed and last forever on the internet. Children today have to worry that something they did in adolescence will affect the way a job application is received when they are old. Forgiveness seems to come harder for people as our society polarizes and hardens and continues to grow in mutual disrespect and disregard. People are less likely to give someone the benefit of the doubt before judgement is made. Really, people are quick to judge before they even know each other.

I belong to a religious leaders group of the Interfaith Council of Metropolitan Washington DC that meets every two months, and this was one of the topics of conversation last week. We were talking about how people don’t practice faith anymore and one of the pastors said that she blames the internet for this overwhelming trend in all churches. The whole nature of relationship has changed. In cyber space there is now only an “I” who anonymously interacts with others who are able, in their anonymity, to freely self-define a “reality” completely disconnected from truth. The truth of community and responsibility and the connectedness that is broken by sin and needs to be reconciled doesn’t even exist in this construct. I’ll never forget the chill that I experienced when a groom in a former parish explained to me that all his friends, even his best friend, were people he met on line and actually had never met in person. “As far as the nones are concerned,” this pastor said, “all they need to do to experience ‘church,’ is to reach out and touch the screen.” (“Nones” are those who have replied “none” to surveys asking their religious affiliation.)

So if fasting is not a sacrifice for suffering’s own sake, then what is it for? It reminds us of a hunger that we have—for what? Or whom? Since we can never own another person, is it not then the relationship that we long for?

A sin ruptures more than just our relationship with God: when one member of the body is sick, the whole body is sick. Sin also destroys fellowship. This is ancient Christian teaching. Absolution (forgiveness) must come from God, of course, but also from the community. For this reason in those early centuries the confession of sins and the fulfillment of penance were public acts, not in confidentiality as it is today. The priest uniquely can speak sacramentally as Christ in the vertical forgiveness as well as the Church for the horizontal aspect of reconciliation.

More and more, as budgets tighten and full calendars and even traffic make getting together harder and harder, this fellowship is the first thing to be cut. We become “disaffiliated,” literally, “un-brothered.” We might look for substitutes in digital hang-outs and conference calls, but the result is only compromise with a gradual dehumanization of ourselves and the radical disappearance of community.

This Lent, I ask you to make a choice. Give up anything that divides or tries to substitute true human relationship. Embrace anything that seeks personal dialogue and reconciliation with God and others. Find inspiration in prayer and fasting.

God bless you.
 

 

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