Lenten Renewal

Pope Francis invited the Roman Curia to dedicate the first week of Lent to private, personal prayer. He asked them to join him in suspending their “work activities and engaging in prayer.”

I don’t know what happened to parish Lenten retreats. As I child, I remember our church being full every Lent. There was a priest known as ‘the blind monk’ who would make his rounds in the Hamilton Diocese. He was an odd sort of fellow, starting off really strict and yelling, but ending the week with everyone laughing. The retreat would begin on Sunday and run through to mid-week. There would be conferences every night after Mass and the final night ended with Confessions. That was in the 1960s.

While preaching for CMIC in my home Diocese of Hamilton, the pastor asked if I could return and offer a Lenten retreat. I jumped at the chance, knowing that CMIC needs every opportunity to raise awareness. I went home and started working on the theme of forgiveness and reconciliation in difficult cases. I got the idea when I was teaching at the Ukrainian Eparchial Catholic Education Centre in Saskatoon. It proved to be a lot of work and I thought it should be shared.

Then my friend, Fr. Jan Grotowski called to say that he had moved from Campbell River to Victoria, BC. He wondered if I’d be willing to conduct a retreat for his new parish. The ball continued to roll and 2 more parishes came on board. As of this writing, I’m awaiting word from a fifth parish in the Toronto Archdiocese.

Unlike the Holy Father, rather than drop things, I will be actively engaged for my Lent. As I planned these days with the pastors, I noticed that many were not familiar with what I was offering (the schedule of the blind monk). I haven’t worked in a regular parish for 8 years, so maybe things have changed. Young families are very busy and this length of time might be a difficult commitment. However, all accepted what I proposed.

Lenten retreats offer opportunities for the faithful to spiritually reboot – a time of reflection and spiritual exercise for renewal of the soul. Lent is a penitential time to “turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel,” or as the minister who distributes the ashes says, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.” We try to remember who we are before our Creator who died for us.

I know forgiveness can be exceedingly difficult for some who’ve been deeply wounded and need help figuring out their emotions and thoughts. That’s what I’ll be focussing on in these retreats and hope that renewal will be the result.