Noticias de la Diócesis de Allentown

Is Everything Ready?

When I was a child, around this time each year, my family had the tradition of driving down to Florida to visit my grandparents. While it seemed to me that the trip was something that just happened, I failed, at the time, to realize how much planning went on behind the scenes.

It was necessary to make sure the animals in our home were fed while we were away and that the mail was picked up. It was necessary to have someone plow our driveway in case of snow. And of course, we needed to buy food for the trip, plan an itinerary, and pack our bags and the car.

I saw none of this. All I remember is sitting in the back seat and my parents turning around to ask my sister and me, “Is everything ready?” This week the Church asks us the same question.

This past Sunday the Church celebrated the feast of Septuagesima, the symbolic 70 days before the Solemnity of Easter. While not a very common term in our churches today, this date for centuries marked the beginning of our communities’ preparations for her most important liturgical season, the season of Lent.

During the three weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday members of the Church would ease into the Lenten season by undertaking greater fasts and sacrifices so that they could receive the greatest spiritual rewards in the following season.

Though practices differed from area to area, it was common during the first week to cease eating all meat. The second week saw the removal of cheese from their diets, with the third week removing all other dairy products and sweets. This would continue without a break until Easter Sunday.

It was also a time to choose one’s personal Lenten penance and begin practicing the discipline needed to carry it out for 40 days. During the first week penance was done on Friday alone, then on Wednesday and Friday, and finally each day until Easter.

This practice officially came to an end in the late 1960s, though it is still practiced by several groups and movements within the church, as well as by all Catholics who belong to the Eastern rites. And while there were legitimate reasons to remove this celebration, there were also unintended consequences.

For many Catholics in the world today, the first time they think about their Lenten penance is the morning of Ash Wednesday itself. As they drive to church to have dust placed upon their forehead, they find themselves asking, “What should I do this year?”

This discussion usually ends in one of two ways. Either they cannot decide and by the time they do, they find Lent is practically over. Or they choose an activity for which they are not ready. And like a New Year’s resolution, they end up abandoning it after only a few days.

In either case, lack of preparation means that they reap little benefit from what should be one of the most joyous times of the year, but also a time of great growth and transformation.

And so, while we are not required to do so, I encourage you to use this time well. Ask yourself, “Am I prepared for what is to come?” So that when the Lord calls out during this Lenten season we may respond fully, bearing fruit for ourselves, our families, and for the salvation of the world.

By Father Joseph Ganser, pastor of St. Margaret, Reading.