First Sunday of Lent

Sunday 18 February 2018

Dear Friends in Christ,

I was ordained to the priesthood on 10 July 1993, which means that this summer I will celebrate the 25th anniversary of my ordination. In observance of that jubilee we will sing Vespers here at 5 pm on Sunday 8 July 2018, and then all are welcome at a reception in Gallivan Hall immediately after Vespers. I mention this now not only to draw your attention to the date but also to explain why I am going to Rome for nine days in late February and early March. I lived in Rome for five years of study and seminary formation, but that was now a quarter century ago, and I have seldom returned to the Eternal City in all the years since. In preparation for my anniversary, I am going to Rome for a few days this Lent to seek the Lord, to pray at the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul, and to join in the lenten pilgrimage to the Stational Churches established by Pope Saint Gregory the Great over 1400 years ago. I will also probably find time to enjoy a dish of pasta at one or two of my favorite Roman restaurants!

My purpose in Rome will be to renew the commitment I made 25 years ago when I accepted the call of Christ and His Church to live and love as a priest, but my lenten retreat in Rome will also simply be part of the journey we are all called to undertake in the 40 Days. On Ash Wednesday we heard the Word of the Lord from the Prophet Joel: “Return to me with your whole heart … rend your hearts not your garments.” We need to return to God with our whole heart because our hearts are divided, and all of us have experienced the struggle between the desire to do what is right and the desire to do what we want. That interior division and struggle between the man I am and the man I should be is at the heart of all Christian conversion and discipleship, and there is zero possibility of being a disciple of Jesus Christ without a life-changing commitment to continuing conversion from sin and selfishness. But to be open to such ongoing conversion requires that we accept the truth of the Gospel and surrender to that truth in the obedience of faith, and that is why the Lord Jesus insists that being authentic disciples demands our acceptance of his saving doctrine. “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8.31-32)

Our conversion from sin begins at Baptism, but it must continue all the days of our lives. Four of the seven sacraments confer the forgiveness of sins, and they are: Baptism, the Holy Eucharist, Anointing of the Sick, and Penance. After Baptism, the only ordinary way in which grave sins are forgiven is by receiving the Sacrament of Penance, by going to Confession. Catholics are bound (remember the power of binding and loosing, given by the Lord Jesus to his Apostles?) to go to Confession at least once each year as part of their Easter duty, and any Catholic who has not been to Confession in at least a year is no longer in full communion with Christ and his Church. I will go to Confession while I am in Rome, and I invite you to go to Confession during these 40 Days of preparation for Easter. You can do that here on Saturday and Wednesday afternoons at the posted hours, by making an appointment with any of the priests at St Mary’s, or by visiting any of the ten Catholic churches in Greenville County for the regular times of Confessions. You can also take advantage of many priests hearing Confessions at 7 pm on Monday 19 March at St Mary Magdalene, Simpsonville. Remember the Word of the Lord: Return to me with your whole heart, and rend your heart.

Father Newman