The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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March 3, 2000 Issue
Bishop Banks'
Renew 2000 Column

Bishop Robert J. Banks
Bishop Robert J. Banks

Renew 2000 faith groups will focus on some of the year's key scripture passages

Lent, and Renew, all about getting closer to God

By Bishop Robert Banks

I like Lent. No, it is not because I like giving up things.

I like Lent because, for six weeks, people pay more attention to God and things of God. Even those who don't do anything for Lent know that the season has something to do with God. The daily newspapers help us, even if it is only by including some Lenten recipes in the food section. And the stores help us by not marking off the days of Lent as shopping days before Easter. That let's us focus on what Lent is all about: God and us.

There are many ways to focus on a closer relationship with God during this season of Lent. Tom Rinkoski, our Family Life director who also writes a column for this paper, suggests that eating chocolate during Lent might be a good way to "be more receptive to God's presence" (Compass, 2/25). Bp. Morneau in the same issue of The Compass entitled his column, "To fast or not to fast, that is the question." The tradition of the Church recommends prayer, fasting and almsgiving as the ways to observe Lent.

As a member of the gray-haired generation, I tend to favor the prayer, fasting and almsgiving approach to Lent. But as a minor league chocoholic, I perhaps could be talked into the Rinkoski approach of a piece of chocolate a day, if it reminded me of God's presence.

However, it is now my intention to try to give up something for Lent. I hope that will remind me of God's presence during the next six weeks and also, in a very, very tiny way, fit in with St. Paul's advice that we should share in the sufferings of Christ.

Frankly, while I like the old way of observing Lent, we live in a world that is very different from the one in which most Catholics went to Mass every Sunday, made a week's mission every few years, fasted from midnight before Communion, and stayed away from meat on Fridays. In that world, giving up cigarettes or candy or alcohol for Lent fitted in quite nicely to a life that was filled with religious practices.

Now we, as individuals and as Church family, have to find ways in which Christ can be central to our lives without the support of that old Church world. The basic way is not to insist on new obligations, but to come to know Jesus more and more. We have to experience what the persons preparing to enter the Church this Easter have experienced. They have come to know the Church and Jesus, and they desire to be baptized in Jesus and to join the Church. It is not a case of obligations imposed upon them.

So we have to help one another to know Jesus and to love his family, the Church. That is why I think that a wonderful way to celebrate Lent would be to join a Renew 2000 faith-sharing group.

The sessions this Lent will be focused on the Scripture readings for the Sunday Masses of Lent. Those are some of the key Scripture passages of the year. To read those passages, to reflect on them, to share them with others should be a grace-filled experience. It also should be for some an introduction to the Scriptures and an invitation to become more familiar with them. A familiarity with the Scriptures is one of the foundation stones of a Christian life.

A greater familiarity with the Scripture passages used at Mass might also be a way to appreciate more the Mass itself. That is another foundation stone of the Christian and Catholic life. (Another help would be the reading of my "Pastoral Letter on the Celebration of the Eucharist." The Compass has extra copies.)

A greater familiarity with the Scriptures and a better appreciation of the Mass leads naturally to a greater love of Jesus and a desire to live a life more in accord with his Gospel. When that desire springs up within you, don't be surprised if prayer, fasting and almsgiving actually become attractive. Most likely we won't find them as attractive as the saints did and do, but we shall find ourselves taking them on, even if only in a minimal degree, because we want to and not because we have to.

That, of course, is the history of so many obligations that have grown up in the Church. The obligations usually began in the desire of Catholics to do something for the Lord. The obligation of Sunday Mass didn't grow out of a pope one day having the bright idea to make Catholics go to Mass on Sunday. It began in the love that believers had for the Eucharist and the desire to come together regularly as family to celebrate the Lord and his victory over sin and death.

Celibacy was not another clever idea of some Church authority to secure cheap labor or to put down sex. Celibacy began in the desire of individuals to follow -- out of love -- in the footsteps of Jesus' celibate life.

The challenge for the Church today is to help our people experience the love of God, the love of Jesus. Once that happens, then the Spirit will lead people to respond to that love in all kinds of ways, among which will always be prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Having a piece of chocolate every day might also make the list.

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