Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church
Hot Springs Village, Arkansas
Our Lenten study is entitled, "Forgiven: Transforming Power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation."  I pray that you will participate in this five-week study starting this week in one of our group sessions (Monday, Wednesday, or Friday morning at 9:45, OR Tuesday evening at 6:00 p.m.).  I am inclined to also ponder "The Transforming Power of the Lenten Season."  It has that potential for individuals who take seriously this 40-day season when we follow the example of Jesus in the desert (where He fasted and prayed) and through almsgiving practices (especially Operation Rice Bowl as sponsored by Catholic Relief Services).  When Catholics from all over the world (and some other Christians) join in these and other Lenten practices, the potential is there for the Church, and even the whole world, to be transformed in ways that give honor and glory to God.  I would like to encourage ALL OF US at Sacred Heart to join together each day of Lent in praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy which Jesus gave to St. Faustina in Poland many years ago, and which was promulgated by Pope John Paul II for the whole Church to pray.  Please come to church at least 15 minutes before Mass for the weekend Masses and join with others in the pews in praying the Chaplet.  Try then, on the other days of Lent, to pray the Chaplet at home or in our Eucharistic chapel, either alone or with others.  For those who still don't know how to pray it, here's a guide.

Start with the Lord's Prayer, one Hail Mary, and the Apostles Creed.  Using a rosary, say the following on the "Our Father Beads:"  "Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and the Blood, Soul and Divinity of your dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world."  Then on each "Hail Mary bead" on the string of 10 beads (a total of fifty times) pray this:  "For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world."  At the end pray the following three times:  "Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, Have mercy on us and on the whole world."

With all of us throughout Lent praying the chaplet (which takes no more than 10 minutes), I truly believe that the transforming power of God will do marvelous things for us as a parish community and for each of our individual lives.

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Lent?  For some it is "giving up" something, which can be a good thing if our self-sacrifice leads us to God.  Many people also think of the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Lent as we hear the call to repentance and reflect on the transforming power of Jesus that is always ready to heal us.  While it is probably safe to say that more people go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Lent than any other season of the Church year, the fact is that many people don't go to this sacrament during Lent or any other time.  Recently I tried moving the regular times that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is available here at Sacred Heart and have not witnessed any increase in the numbers of people going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  I have decided to return to the time I had been having (weekdays, 8:30-8:55 a.m., Saturday, 3:00-3:45 p.m. AND at 4:30 p.m. on the first and second Tuesdays of the month); and, will hope to be busier during those times in the future especially AFTER, I pray, many of you participate in our five-week Lenten program, FORGIVEN:  THE TRANSFORMING POWER OF CONFESSION.  While I encourage you to participate in this video program with your fellow parishioners either Monday, Wednesday or Thursday mornings at 9:45 a.m. or Tuesday evenings at 6:00 p.m. starting the week of February 19, you can do this program at home if you have access to the internet and can watch the weekly videos wherever you are.  The trailer for this series speaks a truth that some Catholics view the Sacrament of Reconciliation as "HUMILIATING" and therefore don't avail themselves to the sacrament much, if at all.  Actually it is sin, which makes us less than what God wants us to be, that is humiliating, while the Sacrament of Reconciliation is humbling.  If this doesn't initially sound good, remember what Jesus said on more than a few occasions:  "Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself, shall be exalted." (Matthew 23:12f, Luke 14:11).  I pray that after you participate in this program you will be prepared and ready for The Lord to "lift you up" with the grace that flows from His mercy.
At some point during my trip to Florida to visit some of my family and baptize my great-nephew, James, I couldn't help but look ahead to James' future life, wondering what the world will be like when he is my age (which, for those who don't know, is 58 years).  Given the situation of our world today, one can only imagine how challenging things will be for him and others - 58 years from now.  It would indeed, be easy to be negative, and even skeptical about the future - given so much in this world that he and others of his generation will have to deal with that is beyond what any of us can imagine.  I am, however, optimistic for him (and I hope many others) because I know that he will grow up in a loving Catholic home where he will come to know Jesus Christ and grow in faith, hope and love through God's grace and the efforts of his biological and faith family.  I pray that he and many of his contemporaries will keep their focus on Jesus Christ and His love and mercy, and celebrate the reality that the future is always bright when we put our faith and hope in Him.

When Jesus is the rock and foundation of one's life, then a person (of this or any time) can live each day in hope, and strive to bring that hope to the world, no matter what is happening, good and/or bad.  It is for those of James' generation, and ours, who do not live with faith in Jesus Christ and do not follow Him as the Way, the Truth and the Life, that I especially feel for, and pray for, every day.

One our our baptismal responsibilities (and that for James when he grows up) is to bring Jesus and His message of hope to others.  I might challenge you this week to spend time pondering those who helped bring you to faith in Jesus, and consider who you need to go to now in your life to help you grow even closer to Jesus and to living His truth and spreading it in one way or another, every day.  With Lent right around the corner (Ash Wednesday is February 14), a number of opportunities will be offered to all of us.  Let's pray for the grace and strength to say yes to one or more of these, and know that the Lord has more and more blessings ready for those who put greater and greater trust in Him.