Now that we have gradually moved back into the church, our rightful place of worship, if you were at Sunday Mass at St. Margaret’s, you would have heard me talk about the challenges we now face moving inside again after spending so much time in an outside worship environment.
In Southern California, the freedom of the outdoors is part of our nature (with sunblock, of course). Returning back to indoor worship may sound like returning to familiar territory, a kind of “muscle memory” of days long ago.
Rather than being tempted to “pick up where we left off”, let’s not miss this opportunity to renew and redefine how we worship around the altar of the Lord, the necessary environment we have to now rediscover inside a church that has been dedicated for sacred worship.
The season of Lent which begins with this week’s Ash Wednesday attempts to balance outside behavior with inner renewal, how we must always resist the temptation to bring the outside world of many distractions and attractions into the sacred space of both our souls and our place of worship. In short, we have an ongoing need to purify all our senses, especially when we gather together for Mass inside our church.
Unlike the piazza outside or the parking lot, being inside the church affords us with a unique opportunity to experience the spiritual refreshment that our frayed senses need. To help foster this renewal, within our sacred environment of worship where we can see and hear each other, it will take effort on everyone’s part to ensure we do not unwittingly distract each other from our goal.
Unlike the piazza, the interior is an echo chamber from one side of the church to the other. Because of this, keep casual conversations, responding to restless children and, dare I have to say it, receiving phone calls to the church piazza outside.
Always keep in mind that while inside the church building again, there are people around you who need a quiet this environment to pray, to listen to the words of the scriptures and reflect on the prayers of the Mass. This also applies to the priest who stands at the altar who also sees and hears everything around him!
The 40 Days of Lent provide us with this unique opportunity to refine, redefine and encourage each other by our example of prayer and sacrifices that must go against the common and natural environments we are often immersed and must respond to in our home or work environment. Inside any Catholic church building we all should find an refuge place where we are allowed to, at least, sense a bit of eternity, without distraction. Maybe, the church is, for most of us, the last true oasis.
Our spiritual journey to Easter will necessarily begin with renewing the discipline of our senses, both body and soul, interior and exterior.
Some pointers -
1. Mark the beginning of this renewal of discipline of mind, body and soul especially on Ash Wednesday. If you come to church, accept ashes on the forehead as an outward sign of quiet humility, to work with God’s grace to turn to ash any obstacles within you that naturally resist His influence over your body and soul.
2. If you are physically able to do so and have no good excuse not to, allow ourself to experience some hunger on Ash Wednesday. Let it remind you of the soul’s constant hunger for spiritual nourishment satisfied only by union with God.
3. Again, if physically able to do so and have no good excuse not to, every Friday of Lent avoid any red meat. Let it remind you that there was enough blood shed on Good Friday for the forgiveness of sins. Make use of Fridays to meditate on Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross.
4. Go out of your way to extend meaningful charity to others, not simply in prayer but through exterior acts of sacrificial giving by means of donations to charitable causes, both through the Church and compatible humanitarian organizations that seek the common good of all our brothers and sisters.
May the approaching Season of Lent prepare us all by the purification of our worldly distractions so that we can be to better celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, a small hint of which we are afforded every morning when we begin a new day.
With every blessing,
Father Cávana Wallace
Pastor and Parish Priest of St. Margaret’s