January 29, 2016
On Ash Wednesday, Feb. 10, Catholics around the world will once again enter the Lenten season as they examine their life and their faith in preparation for Easter.
“Some people have called Lent the Church on retreat,” said Father Steve Wolf, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Clarksville.
This year, Lent will take on a slightly different cast as the Church also observes the Jubilee Year of Mercy. “Mercy, it’s naturally part of Lent,” Father Wolf said.
In the Bull of Indiction proclaiming the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis asked that “the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy.”
“God’s mercy transforms human hearts; it enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn,” Pope Francis wrote in his Lenten Message this year.
The pope has asked Catholics to devote themselves during the Jubilee to the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy. “These works remind us that faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbors in body and spirit: by feeding, visiting, comforting and instructing them. On such things will we be judged.”
Father Davis Chackaleckel, M.S.F.S., pastor of St. Catherine Church in Columbia, will be focusing his parishioners’ attention during Lent on the parish ministries that reflect the Works of Mercy. The parish will be collecting food every Sunday for the local food bank and collecting coats for the poor, he said.
Pope Francis talks often of caring for the sick and visiting people in prisons, Father Chackaleckel noted. His parish has ministries in both areas. That work becomes even more important during the Year of Mercy, he said.
Another feature that Lent and the Year of Mercy have in common is an emphasis on the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
During the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis urges, “Let us place the Sacrament of Reconciliation at the center once more in such a way that it will enable people to touch the grandeur of God’s mercy with their own hands. For every penitent, it will be a source of true interior peace.”
Father Chackaleckel will be urging his parishioners to come to Confession, he said, and he plans to distribute a brochure titled “Why Should I Go to Confession?”
When it comes to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Father Wolf said, “The hardest part is showing up. I can help them through it once they get there.”
“We go to Confession for the little things at every Mass,” Father Wolf said. “We do an Act of Contrition. The priest prays the Prayer of Absolution. In the hearing of the Word, the reception of the Eucharist and going forth … we receive mercy. We receive forgiveness for our sins. …
“But for most of us there are things we still drag around like a ball and chain. It impacts our freedom to be fully alive,” Father Wolf said. For these more serious sins, “we have this great gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.”
Father Wolf recently mentioned to a Catholic chaplain from nearby Fort Campbell “just how touched I’ve been in being with some of the soldiers.”
The chaplain responded by talking about Confession, Father Wolf said. The chaplain told Father Wolf, “The great gift you can give to them is that assurance that they are forgiven by God. That makes it possible to forgive themselves. He said without that, they don’t find healing.”
The pope’s description of the Church as a field hospital “makes so much sense in that context,” Father Wolf said.
The Year of Mercy dovetails smoothly with the traditional Lenten observances of fasting, giving alms and prayer, Father Wolf said.
“One of my own experiences of Lent is that whatever my observance is I almost always fail,” Father Wolf said. “I can’t think of a year I didn’t, which for me is a helpful reminder of how dependent I am upon God’s mercy.”
There is a prayer for the Lenten season in which we acknowledge that the forgiveness of sins through the mercy of Jesus is what makes us worthy, Father Wolf said.
Both Father Wolf and Father Chackaleckel said people in their parishes are responding to the Year of Mercy.
“I have experienced people coming in for pastoral counseling and the Sacrament (of Reconciliation) that are pretty clearly related to what the pope is doing,” said Father Wolf. People are responding to the Year of Mercy “because the pope is actually using the word,” Father Wolf said. “He has a big megaphone.”
“I see there is a great interest,” Father Chackaleckel said. He distributed to parishioners a book entitled “Year of Mercy Companion” with daily reflections. “We got an overwhelming response to that. People are reading that every day.”
In his Lenten Message, Pope Francis wrote: “Let us not waste this season of Lent, so favorable a time for conversion!”