This coming Wednesday, February 14th is Valentine’s Day. It is a day where we remember in a special way those whose love has nurtured us and express our gratitude to them. This year Wednesday, February 14th is even more life-giving as we begin our spiritual journey to Easter as we have blessed ashes placed on our foreheads. It is our 40-day time to look into our hearts and see the overpowering presence of God’s love.
Since I became pastor here in 2003, each year during Lent we have had a Lenten Project whereas the family of St. Patrick’s in Smithtown we joined together with our financial donations to help people in other parts of the world to make practical improvements in their lives. Through two of the priests from Nigeria who were with us, Fr. Matthew and Fr. Anselm, we focused on collecting enough money so they could construct wells in the center of their home villages so their people would no longer have to make journeys to a river with buckets just to have water in their homes. Another year we shared our financial resources so latrines could be erected in the Dominican Republic where our diocese runs a mission for the people there. For a number of years, we collected money to help build Fr. George’s parish church in Ghana. Our contributions have made possible a building they would never have been able to finance and construct on their own.
Last year we focused on raising money to help the work of Fr. Shibi’s order in India to serve orphans and poor people who have no place to live. Each Lent we have joined as the family of St. Patrick to reach out to those whose lives are limited by their lack of financial support and who lack the very conveniences we take for granted. It is so good to be part of this great love in our parish with you. Each of the priests who have been here have been touched by the goodness, love, and generosity of our parish family.
This year I would like to focus on ourselves and our own personal spiritual lives. Blessed ashes will be placed on our foreheads as we hear the words: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” Doing good is not only a sign that we have risen above sin and selfishness, but even more is a sign that our faith in God has taken root in our hearts. One of the ways we can work together as people of faith during this Lent is to grow in our understanding and living of reverence. One of the foundations of reverence is the gift of wonder and awe. We live in a society that is constantly criticizing and putting people down who do not agree with those in the media or those who disagree with us. It is a challenge to reverence when all we do is complain, criticize, and gossip. Such an atmosphere fosters smug self-righteousness that only separates us from one another as well as from our life with God. How can we grow in reverence?
I would suggest that we begin with the way we enter our church building and prepare to pray or be part of a sacramental celebration. Consciously blessing ourselves with holy water from the fonts at the door and making a reverent sign of the cross is the beginning of spiritually putting ourselves into the presence of God. As we come into the church building, genuflect reverently and go into a pew and kneel or sit quietly to put ourselves into God’s presence. So often we come to church and greet and chat with those who are already there. While it is always good to be cordial and welcoming, our church and every other church building is a holy place because of the presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist reserved in the tabernacle. HE is the host; we are always welcome into His presence. Let us work together to enable, encourage, and inspire one another to realize what a blessing it is to be in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Even one person talking in our church building disrupts the quiet, holy, reverent atmosphere. So often voices are multiplied and it becomes almost impossible to focus on whose presence we are in and the power of His loving presence.
When we become part of a reverent experience of God’s presence, our hearts are enlightened and strengthened to become more Christ-like in our thoughts, words, and actions with one another. It is so easy to get upset or caught up in negative conversations that tear others down. Jesus, whose presence we are privileged and blessed to be in— whether in a church building or in our hearts wherever we are—is the example of patience, understanding, and reverence that gives life, hope, and love. Even Judas was invited to the Last Supper. Jesus prayed on the cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) He did not yell and scream; He did not express disappointment or threaten His betrayers or persecutors with the fires of hell; He sought to love them. Sincere reverence in church will inevitably lead to reverence for creation and one another. The eyes of our minds and hearts will start to see how blessed we are, how good God is to us, and how good we can be to one another. It will inspire us to take the time to pray every day with reverence. We will pray reflectively and the words and thoughts will come back to us, enlightening, guiding, and inspiring us. Find a good spiritual book. I recommend any of the books by Henri Nouwen, especially “The Prodigal Son.” Read the scriptures for each day during Lent. These readings are readily available on the website of the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops). Go on the One Parish App - it has many good things every day to help us reflect spiritually. Make the Stations of the Cross. Pray the Rosary. Come when we have the Blessed Sacrament exposed for adoration. Come any time to make a “visit” in our church building which is open every day from 6:15am-8:30pm at night. The opportunities are many and the nourishment is powerful.
Fr. WaldBACK TO LIST