February 9, 2013 – On the Cusp of Lent

As we begin we keep in mind two important prayer intentions.  We of course pray for the folks in New England and on the East Coast who have gotten the brunt of one of the worst winter storms in years.  We ask God to protect them and keep them safe.  We also pray for the security guards and staff of Menard Penitentiary, Chester Mental Health Center, and all corrections facilities in Illinois, that a resolution to the problems of overcrowding, short-staffing and violence may be found and that they become safer places to work.

Well my Facebook and Twitter feeds were overflowing with news, editorials, statements, and other items this past week.  When I was finished going through all of the material I took a picture of myself with my webcam, and here’s how I looked:

The Tonight Show with Jay Leno

Of course, not nearly all of this expanded head size is brain matter, but rather just unused space.  As you can imagine, the approaching season of Lent brings its share of reading material.  Also, there has been a lot of reaction, accurate and inaccurate, to the revised proposal for the HHS mandate that was released last Friday.  So even though social media is a great way to bring things to people’s attention, sometimes you have to sort through it and see what is worthwhile and what is, um, not so worthwhile.

One of the better things I read was a blog which talked about how even in this culture of secularization and less reliance on God’s guidance, that the season of Lent still brings out something in folks that draws them to church, or at least to the practices of the church.  Though Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation, it still brings crowds to church larger than the days we are obligated to attend Mass.  Someone joked to me a while back that this is because the church gives away ashes for free on this day, and anyone will come for something free.  Whatever the reason, there is something about this day and season that gives people pause.  Even people I know who haven’t attended church for many years will do some type of gesture.  They will still grab the fish sandwich on Friday instead of the hamburger, and so forth.  So why is this?

Well, think about many of our religious holidays and what society has done to them.  Halloween is all about trick-or-treating and ghosts and goblins instead of its original intent, which was All Hallows’ Eve, the eve of All Saints and All Souls Days.  Even Easter, the most important Christian feast we celebrate, has been commercialized by bunnies laying Cadbury eggs.  However, the more harsh tone of Ash Wednesday and Lent still resists these secular influences.  Lent provides more of a stark reality.  The words we hear when we receive our ashes remind us of this.  “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” or “Turn away from sin, and be faithful to the Gospel,” do not give the greeting card companies a happy slogan to publicize.  Rather, they remind us that we all have faults, and that at some point we will have to face judgment for those faults.  Does this bring those “wanderers” back to church on a more permanent basis?  Most often, probably not.  But at least there is this one moment, or one season, when at least the thought enters their minds.  As usual, we will have a lot of Lenten activities that people are invited to take part in.  Let us also pray that the tone of this season will not only penetrate people’s minds, but their consciences and hearts as well.

As I also mentioned, there was a lot of reaction to the HHS proposal I talked about last time.  The Bishops of the United States offered their official statement this past Thursday.  Cardinal Dolan, the President of the USCCB, appears to believe that this is a step in the right direction, but still falls short in some areas.  The new proposal offers an “accommodation” to institutions such as Catholic health-care facilities, colleges, and Catholic Charities, but still does not accept the fact that these are an integral part of the Church’s ministry, and deserve the same exemptions as churches themselves.  It also gives the impression that religious ministries not deemed “religious employers” would still be forced to violate their consciences by being required to offer coverage that includes contraception and abortion-inducing drugs.  It does not provide a clear direction as to who would be responsible for offering this coverage and in the end, whom would end up paying for it.  Finally, the new proposal still does not provide any conscience protection for private employers who oppose the practice of contraception based on their religious beliefs, such as Hobby Lobby.

According to Cardinal Dolan, however, his statement was not an outright rejection of the proposal, as many have reported. Rather, he said in his response that “We welcome and will take seriously the Administration’s invitation to submit our concerns through formal comments, and we will do so in the hope that an acceptable solution can be found that respects the consciences of all.”  So it appears that the main issue for the Bishops is clarity, and they hope to gain this in the next 60 days (this is the period public comments on the HHS proposal can be made).    So we will see what the next few weeks brings.

Then finally was the story I saw that made me say “huh?” A baker in Oregon refused to make a wedding cake for a same sex-couple claiming that their “marriage” violated his religious beliefs.  Now the baker is being investigated for discrimination by the Attorney General.  OK, first of all the man is a private business owner, and if he didn’t want their business, I’m sure there is another baker in Oregon that will accommodate them.  But what is more upsetting to me is that they are looking to charge this man based on a five-year-old statute trumping his first amendment rights.  I don’t think I need to make any other comments other than this is what it is coming to.

Well, I’m going to find a pin and release the air from my head now.  Have a great week and a blessed start to the Lenten season.  Peace.



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