February seasonal notes
Ordinary Time and Lent begins
Notes, important dates, and other material for February.
Notes for Cycle A
SO SOON WE DEPART Ordinary Time to begin our Lenten journey. One last glance toward the light of Christ—which Jesus declares is found in the lives of his followers—and then we take our annual sojourn into the inhospitable desert. But the liturgical desert contains surprises. Harsh and unforgiving as wilderness terrain, it nonetheless reveals to us the gentleness and mercy of the God who sustains us along the way. We may observe the rules of fasting and abstinence, take on extra practices of prayer and sacrifice heavily with our alms. But we know our observances, however weighty, are slight compared with the divine sacrifice at the end of the road. Still we do not lose heart, for we have the comfort of companions on this road who share our sincere struggle. We take our catechumens along—walking by faith and not by sight!—as we follow the Lord himself into the desert, climb a mountain with Peter, James, and John, and converse awhile with the Samaritan woman. Walking shoes are advised.
THE FRONT END of the church year always seems a bit rushed. Warm and cheerful Advent is too short for most tastes. Christmas is hardly more than a week, and this particular year, it’s a short step from Epiphany to Lent with just a nod to Ordinary Time in between. The parish decorating committee has its hands full keeping up with the colors, flowers, and accoutrement. As homilists, we might feel as if a U-turn in tone is required. We’ve decked the halls, and now we’ve got to clear the decks of any tinsel in favor of the desert look.
Yet the fullness of Year A’s “perfect” Lenten story is enough to enrich any poverty in the sanctuary’s décor. It’s not for nothing that the church prefers Cycle A for the Lenten elect, for here we explore John’s great mystical stories about what it means to hear the Word of God and keep it. These stories require no colored lights to make them gleam with radiant significance.
Notes for Cycle B
THE FEAST OF THE PRESENTATION puts us on notice: Jesus will be the source of salvation for those who seek the kingdom, but also a sign of contradiction for those who cling to the values of the present age. As we move into the Gospel of Mark this year, we recognize just how contrary that sign can be. Mark presents the strongest evidence of Jesus’ humanity: We see a man with an accessible heart, deeply moved with pity or quickly roused to righteous anger.
At the same time, Mark emphasizes the “secret” of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, known to the demons who oppose him and his impending kingdom. Fully human, Jesus will submit like a lamb to the will of God. Fully God, he will be a light to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel.
HEAVEN HELP US, we know how to suffer. We also know everything there is to know about moral failure and the price of sinfulness. Old familiar patterns and the song of the past lull us into a state of near paralysis till we literally can’t move beyond our stuck place. So how do we acquire healing and wholeness? How do we learn about mercy and forgiveness? How do we break the bonds of business-as-usual into the new, vital, astonishing life that God has for us? The opening chapters of Mark’s gospel are all about the “war on uncleanness,” by any other name. Haven’t heard of it yet? Jesus does battle with the demons, leprosy, paralysis, and old-think. Most of all, he takes up arms against sin and vanquishes it with his signature weapon: divine forgiveness. With the defeat of sin, death loses its sting and greater life now becomes possible. How’s that for new wine in a new wineskin?
Notes for Cycle C
FEBRUARY may be the month for choosing a sweetheart, according to the retail industry, but at this point in the liturgical year we have somewhat less romantic (though by no means less significant) choices before us. First, there is the decision whether to place our faith in the Word of God “fulfilled in our hearing”—and hopefully we’ll make a better choice than the people of Nazareth did. Next we must decide whether to believe more in our own sinfulness or in the power of God to summon us to holy service. Then we must choose between the smorgasbord of blessings and woes available to those who follow or reject God’s ways. We must weigh the worldly practice of “even-steven” against the gospel mandate to love our enemies and to give without getting. Finally, at the end of the month, we enter into the Lenten wilderness, where we must choose between Jesus and the devil himself. They don’t make candy hearts for this, do they?
WHAT DOES IT TAKE to be a disciple of Jesus? Well, it doesn’t take moral perfection, which should be a relief to just about everybody. The great prophet Isaiah wasn’t good enough, nor was Peter upon whom the church was built. Yet God took the masonry of these men’s lives and built a temple made of living stones, as the scripture saying goes. Just think what God might do with you and me? We don’t have to be perfect, but we do have to make serious choices about where we stand in relationship to God and our fellow human beings. One choice leads to an eternal life of blessing, and the other leads, biblically speaking, to an endless life of woe. Sounds like an easy choice: It’s like the lady and the tiger, except the doors to choose between are made of glass! Still, a remarkable number of our sisters and brothers will choose the wrong door and wind up with woe. The temptations are big and they keep coming at you, as Jesus knew personally. But so does the grace to overcome them.
February births and deaths
February includes the commemorations of the birth and death days of several important figures. Besides the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln in 1809 on the 12th and George Washington in 1732 on the 22nd, the 20th marks the anniversary of the death of the African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass in 1895 and the 18th the death of the Protestant reformer Martin Luther in 1546.
U.S. bishops jubilee note to single persons
- Make time for prayer: Reflect on the blessings and challenges of being single and the gifts you have to offer; make prayer a part of your daily life; use personal prayer, scripture, journaling, meditation, and the Liturgy of the Hours; schedule a personal or group retreat.
- Practice forgiveness: Learn to forgive and be forgiven; examine your conscience, and practice fasting and sacrifice; celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation.
- Celebrate the Eucharist: Actively participate each Sunday; look for ways to get more involved in the liturgy as a lector, eucharistic minister, usher, musician, or choir member.
- Live a just life: Work against discrimination, racism, and oppression; treat all people with the dignity they deserve as sons and daughters of God; look for ways to simplify your life and share what you have with others.
- Help the poor: Look into local service opportunities or other ways your gifts can be used in service to others; gather others together for group service projects; practice charity by assisting those living in poverty, and promote community-based solutions for injustice and poverty.
- Be a domestic church: Establish some personal traditions around holidays, special feast days, and other celebrations or memorials; offer your home as a place for friendship and hospitality.
- Share faith: Talk about God’s presence in your life with other people; consider getting involved with your parish RCIA program for those learning more about the Catholic faith; look for opportunities to invite others to experience your faith community.
- Join a small Christian community: Join a small faith group to receive support to live your faith—if one does not exist, form one of your own; gather regularly for prayer, faith sharing, and community; gather together singles you know to share your experiences, blessings, and challenges.
- Know your faith: Look for opportunities for adult faith development and education; visit a good bookstore or the Internet for resources on faith and the church; read scripture; study saints who lived a single life.
The Rite of Election
The first Sunday of Lent marks the usual day to celebrate the Rite of Election for those involved in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. If the Rite of Election will take place outside the parish, parishes may celebrate the sending of the catechumens for election and candidates for recognition by the bishop.
Today’s initiation celebrates: an expression of support and care for the catechumens and candidates, recognition of their formation and the change they have undergone, affirmation of their readiness to continue to full initiation, and blessings of them and prayers for them.
For a sample homily for the sending of the catechumens and candidates, click here.
Saint Brigid’s Day Saint Brigid founded many religious communities, including a “double monastery” at Kildare for both monks and nuns. A legend about her says that when Saint Patrick heard her final vows, he mistakenly used the rite for ordaining priests. When told of his mistake, he replied, “So be it, my son, she is destined for great things.”
World Day for Consecrated Life For information on discerning a vocation to consecrated life, visit vocationnetwork.org. The U.S. Catholic bishops also provide resources for this day at usccb.org.
Candlemas On the 40th day after Christmas the church celebrates the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. In the gospel Simeon call Jesus a “light to the nations,” and so this day is also Candlemas, a feast of lights on which candles for the year are blessed. Even though the Feast of the Presentation falls on a Monday and not a Sunday this year, invite the people to bring candles to be blessed and taken home.
SECOND SUNDAY IN FEBRUARY
World Marriage Day World Marriage Day honors husband and wife as head of the family, the basic unit of society. It salutes the beauty of their faithfulness, sacrifice, and joy in daily married life. For more information visit wmd.wwme.org.