Sunday, February 21, 2021 at St. Francis Xavier Parish
The season of Lent is upon us! It began a few days ago with the celebration of Ash Wednesday, which also coincided with the re-opening of our church after the stay-at-home order was lifted. This Sunday we celebrate the First Sunday of Lent and follow Christ into the desert.
“Every year on the First Sunday of Lent, the gospel proclaimed is the wilderness temptation of Jesus. Mark’s account is honed to three short verses following immediately and urgently after the baptism of Jesus. The Spirit “drove” Jesus into the wilderness, says Mark. We often describe people as “driven” – by ambition, lust, desperation – but what drives Jesus is the Holy Spirit. He is tossed into the physical and spiritual space where, before he begins his public ministry, before he proclaims one word of the Good News, he must struggle with two consequences of his baptism: his naming as Son of the Father and his solidarity with sinful humanity represented by the crowds on the Jordan’s banks who were called by John to a baptism of repentance. Now there are no crowds; Jesus is alone with the Spirit of God and the spirit of evil, with the wild beasts and the angels, with communion and conflict, with the struggle – that will persist throughout his life and death – to be the faithful Son. He is alone with the memory of his ancestors and their wilderness wandering in what for them was not only a place of God’s revelation and promises, but also a place of their temptations and failures. Jesus will show himself to be the most faithful Israelite. The opposition between human sin and divine presence, between the “angelic” and the “beastly,” was starkly exposed in Jesus’s own psyche. And if we are honest and mindful, we know them in ourselves and in our own struggles to be faithful sons and daughters of our same Father.
The English artist Stanley Spencer (1891–1959) painted a “wilderness series” about the life of Christ. In one of these paintings he depicts Jesus sitting on the desert sands with a “wild beast.” But the beast is not a roaring lion or a skulking tiger. In his cupped hands he holds a small but deadly scorpion. Jesus is no wraith-like ascetic, but very much a plump “flesh of our flesh” man. Spencer may be suggesting that the really dangerous beasts are those small ones that can slither insidiously into our lives; the persistent sins and small infidelities that, almost unnoticed, can inject a paralyzing venom into our discipleship…
Jesus comes out from his wilderness experience strengthened for praise and pain and mission. The arrest of John the Baptist is the first storm that breaks over Mark’s gospel, but over it rises a Galilean rainbow of hope as Jesus proclaims his first words: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” On Ash Wednesday, the last words of that proclamation were an alternative that was pronounced as we were sprinkled with ashes as baptized disciples of the tempted One and called to Lenten mindfulness of the struggle between sin and grace, success and failure, into which we too are tossed.
The desert sand is not under our feet but in our hearts. Its grit is the daily irritations and indefinable loneliness we often feel. We need these Lenten weeks of heightened awareness of the importance of uncluttered spiritual and physical space where we can come to grips with our pain, where we can discover the beauty of God and our sisters and brothers under the surface sands of our busy lives, and where we can allow our ears to be “dug out” (Ps 40:6) by closer listening to the word of God in our Sunday liturgy. We may then become much wiser about the spiritual baggage that we, as wilderness travelers, need to keep or discard in the trek toward Easter.” (Living Liturgy 2021)
Daily and Sunday Masses have now resumed at the regular times and with the pandemic protocols in place. If you are coming to the church, please remember to sanitize your hands at the stations provided in the Narthex, to wear your facemask at all times while you are inside the building, and to maintain social distancing. The parish office has also re-opened, and office hours are Tuesday to Friday from 9am to 4pm. If you need to visit the office, please make sure that you call in advance to schedule your appointment. If your request can be handled by phone or email, please use these methods to communicate with the staff in order to help minimize visitors to the office during this time.
As I mentioned in last week’s email, tax receipts for 2020 are now available at the office. You can either request to have your receipt emailed to you or make an appointment to come pick it up during office hours. They will be also available for pick-up this Sunday in the lobby of the church before the 5:30pm Saturday Mass and 9:00am and 11:00am Sunday Masses – our secretaries will be waiting there to assist you.
I would like to remind those who make their donations to the parish through our website using CanadaHelps that a tax receipt is emailed to you automatically as a PDF life each time you donate, and is not recorded in our parish system.
Beginning tonight, the Stations of the Cross will be held at the church on each Friday of Lent at 7:00pm. You are welcome to come to reflect and pray. Pandemic protocols must be followed therefore we are not able to provide you with a booklet of the Stations to follow along with.
This week we begin the Lenten Bible study entitled Forgiven; it is not too late to register! Please see the parish bulletin for additional information. Meetings will take place online so that there are no social distancing concerns – you can participate from the comfort of your home!
One last reminder to any students in Grade 5 and up who would like to participate in this year’s THINKfast, which will be held over Zoom on March 5 and 6, that the registration deadline is this coming Friday, February 26. The registration form and much more information about this event are available at this link here.
The weekly Lenten retreat for youth and families begins this Sunday evening on Zoom! More information can be found here. If you have not received the Zoom invite and would like to participate, please contact Wes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In your prayers, please remember the soul of Lorenzo Castelli who passed away this week and whose funeral took place on Thursday: Eternal rest, grant unto him O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
I invite our parishioners who are homebound or unable to attend Masses in person at this time to join us for the live-streamed celebration of Sunday Mass at 9:00 AM, as we are now returning to our regular Sunday schedule. Before the Mass you can also join in for the recitation of the Rosary at 8:30 am, led by our parishioners.
We hope to see you soon, everyone.