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February 9, 2004
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Lent, Rededication and Small Groups

Time to get ready for Lent again. At our parish, picking a theme this year was easy. The dedication of our new church will be celebrated at the end of March. The rite for celebrating the dedication emphasizes Vatican II's vision of the Church as the people. So this Lent, as we get ready to dedicate the building, we are going to focus on our own rededication.

Fortunately our parish is already involved in "Generations of Faith," put out by the Center for Ministry Development. This is a great intergenerational program that provides lifelong faith formation centered on the events of Church life. For example, we met in October to learn about and celebrate our patron, St. Francis; in November we learned about the season of Advent and how to celebrate it at home. We are looking forward to the beginning of March for our next gathering of adults, teens and children to learn about dedicating a Church and rededicating ourselves.

We are also putting together "rededication" materials for the parish's small faith communities to use during Lent. Along with the dozen groups already meeting, we hope to form new groups that will commit to meet five of the six weeks of Lent. We have found that Lent is a great time to introduce people to small faith-sharing groups. It is a limited commitment and folks are accustomed to doing something extra for those six weeks anyway. If, like most parishes, yours is not dedicating a church this year, consider choosing another topic for small groups.

In my book Practical Catechesis, I talk about forming small groups in Lent to focus on the baptismal rite, since Lent is considered an appropriate time to recall our own Baptism. RCIA sponsors and the elect can be asked to join, giving new members an opportunity to meet more parishioners, and vice versa. Click here to get some ideas and topics for faith-sharing on Baptism and the baptismal rite in small groups.

Lent is about renewal (rededication) and Baptism (new life). By gathering long-time Catholics to talk about what that new life and Baptism are all about, you give folks an opportunity to review and renew the commitments that often were made for them a long time ago.

Lenten Customs

A favorite family Lenten memory from my childhood is Paczki Tuesday. The Tuesday is Shrove Tuesday, and a paczki is a Polish donut. They are deep-fried and then dipped in sugar, some with the traditional hole in the middle and some stuffed with prune filling. In my family, Paczki Tuesday actually started the Sunday before Lent. My mother and her sisters would get together on Saturday and bake all day. They made so many of the delicious treats that we were allowed to start eating them after Mass on Sunday. By Wednesday morning we were on such a sugar high, giving up candy for Lent became a real sacrifice.

Ethnic and family customs and rituals often revolve around food. I didn't hear about hot cross buns until I went to high school, where I discovered they were the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of my family's paczkis. (Equivalent only in the custom; they can't compare in taste.) I don't fix paczkis: too high in fat, and too time-consuming to make by myself. So that custom was lost to my own family. I regret it. In today's world of separated extended family, we have lost a lot of our old customs. That is why it is a great idea to start parish family traditions.

Consider gathering some families to bake hot cross buns the Saturday before Lent. Adults can bake and children can frost and package. Put half a dozen on a plate and half a dozen in freezer bags. Have families take them home with the suggestion they eat the plated buns on Shrove Tuesday and save the frozen ones for Easter.

If you have enough families with lots of energy, you might even make enough to sell after the Masses on Sunday. Click here for family suggestions for Lent, including a hot cross bun recipe. The recipe and ideas are from The Book of Catholic Customs and Traditions from Servant Press.

Video Updates on Lenten Renewal

When I renew my driver's license or items on loan from the public library, I do so in large part to avoid negative consequences such as fines or, as one friend discovered, the inability to rent a car on a business trip (resulting from her failure to renew her driver's license, not library books!).

When we speak of renewal in our faith life, we tend to look more toward the immediate (and real!) positive results of our action than to the eventual (and no-less real!) negative consequences of inaction. Lent is a great time for personal assessment; it's not too far removed from those already-broken New Year's resolutions, yet it invites us to look more specifically at how we are living out the baptismal call to holiness.

Invite members of your community to pray for those participating in your parish's RCIA process, particularly any who are preparing to be baptized this Easter. Those preparing for a profession of faith and entrance into full communion with the Catholic Church will also benefit from the prayer of the community. Use the following or a similar prayer to invite individuals, families and small groups to offer prayerful support for those approaching the Easter sacraments and to renew their own commitment to Christian discipleship. Make these available at the church entrances as Lent begins. Not only will your elect and candidates be touched, but the community will also benefit from its prayer.

Good and Gracious God,
Thank you for the many blessings in my life. I am especially grateful for _____________________ today. Help me to always look for the ways you are present and active in my life. Give me a grateful heart.
Forgive me for the times I have failed to live as a witness of your love in our world. I ask your forgiveness for _____________________ today. Help me to turn to you for strength and guidance in times of temptation.
Bless ________________________ as s/he prepares for _____________________ this Easter. Continue to transform her/his life with a growing knowledge of your love. Give her/him the ability to respond to your call throughout life.
Bless _____________________ and keep her/him ever close to you. And bless all members of _____________________ parish as we prepare to renew our baptismal promises and welcome new members at Easter.
I pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

A new video resource that helps both Catholics and those exploring the Catholic Church to grow in understanding of the Lent/Easter season of our liturgical year is The Church Celebrates: Lent and Easter (V2062). This one program (story, witness, teaching and music video segments) will have multiple uses in your parish: RCIA, adult faith formation, liturgical minister formation, worship commission formation and catechist formation/enrichment. Click here to see a video clip from the story segment of The Church Celebrates: Lent and Easter (RealMedia | Windows Media). Click here to see a video clip from the music video segment of The Church Celebrates: Lent and Easter (RealMedia | Windows Media).


Other videos on Lenten Renewal (click on the video title for more information):

• Lent: Celebrating the Season (12 minutes, grades 3-8).
• A Lenten Journey With Michael Himes (V5040, 4 videos, 25-30 minutes each, adults).
• Lent: A Time of Renewal or Journey to Easter: A Lenten Program for the Family (each includes seven 12-15 minute parts, families).
• The Way of the Cross: Stations on Our Journey of Faith (four segments: story, witness, teaching, music video; adults).
Retreats for Renewal

A longtime tradition in the Church, retreats are practically synonymous with renewal in most Catholics' minds. St. Anthony Messenger Press and Servant Books offer a number of books promising retreat experiences of varying styles and lengths—from seven to 40 days—for individuals as well as groups of believers.

The popular A Retreat With . . . series offers seven-day retreat experiences based on the writings of over 40 different holy men and women. One of the newest in this series is A Retreat with Pope John Paul II: Be Not Afraid. This retreat experience will give you a chance to better acquaint yourself with the life and spiritual message of hope that is Pope John Paul II's.

Another week-long retreat experience worth noting is A Seven-Day Journey With Thomas Merton, Esther de Waal's introduction to the life and spiritual journey of one of the most fascinating monks of the 20th century. This book is made all the more intruiging by the inclusion of nearly 30 photographs, taken by Thomas Merton, that reveal the sacred in the everyday.

For those looking for a more structured—and lengthy—retreat experience, Jesuit Father John Hardon offers Retreat With the Lord: A Popular Guide to the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. Hardon shows the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises—most often experienced as a 30-day retreat—to be as popular and relevant today as when they were first introduced in the 16th century.

Small group leaders are always looking for new materials to use, but never more diligently than as they prepare for the Lenten season. A new treatment of St. Bonaventure's writings, The Journey Into God: A Forty-Day Retreat With Bonaventure, Francis and Clare, provides a wealth of content for this Lent. To add to the usefulness of this 40-day retreat experience, the authors have provided a special section to use as a resource with small groups. The authors outline six full meetings focusing on this work, complete with opening prayer, closing prayer, group reflections, discussion questions and song and Scripture suggestions. A great resource for group leaders looking for something a little more structured this Lent.

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