Bulletin (February 17, 2002)

Lent got off to a good start here at Holy Family. We had five Masses on Ash Wednesday, in addition to four Word Services. More people than ever attended. And this year God did not have to send an earthquake as motivation for repentance!

On Ash Wednesday we heard Jesus’ invitation to the three penitential practices: fasting, prayer and almsgiving. He urges us to do them to please God and not take into consideration what others think of us. Fasting means to eat a reduced amount of food. It is similar to dieting except that it has a very explicit spiritual goal. Today it seems practically everyone over a certain age is dieting, but very few people fast. It shows that we are more interested in passing things, like having a youthful figure or health, and do not recognize the true goal of our existence.

The Church sets certain minimum requirements for fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Also she requires every Catholic over 14 to abstain from meat on the seven Fridays of Lent. “Meat” includes chicken, beef, pork – all warm-blooded flesh – but not the flesh of cold-blooded animals like fish, crab, snails or frogs. (The last two seem to be mainly attractive to Frenchmen, although I have tried them myself and they are quite palatable.) My personal recommendation is to not only abstain from meat on the Fridays of Lent, but to also consider taking up the ancient penitential practice of meatless Fridays throughout the whole year.

Regarding prayer we will have a special invitation this Sunday. After the homily you will be invited to sign up for a weekly Holy Hour before Jesus truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. As you know, our Ailbe House chapel is open for Eucharistic Adoration twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week (except Wednesdays when adoration takes place in the main church). In order to maintain this vital apostolate we need volunteers to sign up for specific hours. Please consider filling out one of the sign-up slips this Sunday. Even if you have filled out a slip previously, it will help our Adoration Committee if you will do so again this Sunday.

Almsgiving begins at home with support of ones own parish. In order to maintain our school and other programs, we need the support of every parishioner. Even though our own needs are urgent, we do not forget those outside of our parish community, in the Archdiocese and the world. A good reminder of almsgiving is to take a Rice Bowl and place it on your dining table.

As our Archdiocesan Mission Offices states, “Operation Rice Bowl brings families, parishes, schools and other faith communities together during Lent to pray, fast, learn and give. Operation Rice Bowl challenges us to put our faith into action and walk in solidarity with our neighbors in need around the world. Through daily reflection, prayer and action, Operation Rice Bowl connects you with our global community.”

On Ash Wednesday I was impressed that many of those who received ashes at the morning Mass continued to wear them throughout the day. In some cases people approached them to say, “hey, you have something on your forehead.” With that they had the opportunity to explain about Ash Wednesday and how the season of Lent is a time to join more deeply with Jesus who died and rose for us.

Last year there was an incident on Ash Wednesday that made national news because it involved Ted Turner, the founder of Cable News Network. It happened at the retirement party for Bernard Shaw which by chance fell on Ash Wednesday. Turner noticed that several people had something on their forehead. When he realized what day it was he said, "What are you, a bunch of Jesus freaks?", he asked. "You ought to be working for Fox."

Turner later apologized for his boorish comment. Syndicated columnist Terry Mattingly, himself an evangelical Christian, made an incisive observation. He noted that Ted Turner’s comment was not so much anti-religious. Rather Turner sees himself as the prophet of a new religion which will supplant traditional Christianity (as well as traditional Judaism and Islam.) Here is part of what Mattingly had to say:

There was nothing particularly shocking about the latest statement from the vice chairman of AOL Time Warner, Inc. After all, the Mouth of the South has previously said that Christianity is "for losers," pro-lifers are Bozos and the pope is a Polish idiot. Perhaps he was shocked to see signs of Lenten repentance in his newsroom and he was caught off guard.

But the key to this story came when Turner responded to the latest howls of outrage from his critics. "I apologize to all Christians for my comment about Catholics wearing ashes on their foreheads," he said. "I do not believe in any form of prejudice or discrimination, especially religious intolerance."

If his recent sermons are to be taken seriously, Turner is openly campaigning for the role of religious leader and prophet. By holding himself up as an advocate of religious tolerance, he also is implying that his enemies are the true advocates of religious intolerance.

Turner spoke at length on this topic last fall in a highly confessional address to more than 1,000 rabbis, swamis, monks, ministers and other spiritual leaders at the United Nations. Of course, the media leader did more than speak at the Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders -- he helped create it.

As a boy, stressed Turner, he had wanted to be a Christian missionary. But now, he said, he understands that missionaries are the enemies of truth and tolerance… Thus, he concluded: "It's time to get rid of hatred. It's time to get rid of prejudice. It's time to have love and respect and tolerance for each other."

Turner doesn't consider himself anti-religious. He is merely opposed to religious groups that he believes are intolerant of other faith groups. Turner believes he is not anti-Christian. He is opposed to Christians who still believe that Jesus is the only path to salvation. And Turner is not anti-Catholic, per se. He financially supports Catholics who oppose their church's teachings on messy, personal subjects such as sex and salvation.

And Turner is not alone in seeing direct links between missionaries and hate groups, between evangelism and violence. As part of a global United Religions Initiative, California Episcopal Bishop William Swing has said that in order for "religions to pursue peace among each other, there will have to be a godly cease-fire, a temporary truce where the absolute, exclusive claims of each will be honored, but an agreed-upon neutrality will be exercised in terms of proselytizing, condemning, murdering or dominating. These will not be tolerated in the United Religions zone."

Critics who think Turner and his allies are anti-religious crusaders are not seeing the big picture, said Mary Jo Anderson, a contributing editor at the Catholic journal Crisis. There's a reason Turner is so critical of religious groups that he believes are mired in the past. He is convinced that he is helping create the religion of the future.

"Ted Turner has a kind of vision," she said. "He sees a world in which everyone is free to live the way Western man lives, with three TVs, two BMWs and one child. He believes man is evolving spiritually, as well as physically. ... He is absolutely sure that he is going to be a leader in what happens next."