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Catholics and this American Moment

By Deacon Keith Fournier
© Third Millennium, L.L.C.


It is the last Sunday before Lent in the Catholic Church, a season during which we are all, in a special and protracted way, called to repent and turn from sin. This Wednesday is called “Ash Wednesday.” I will join with other clergy and, after first having ashes placed on my own head, place them on the heads of the faithful, marking a sign of the cross and proclaiming: "Remember, You are dust and to dust you shall return" or "Turn from sin and believe in the Gospel." I remember as a little kid that people knew we were Catholic because we had those ashes on our head. They are a sign of repentance and a call to public witness.

Christians throughout the world will enter into a 40-day period of repentance - not including Sundays because they are the day we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which the early Christians called the “eighth day”, the beginning of the New Creation. This Lenten Season will end on Holy Saturday, the day before the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a time during which all of our Liturgical readings and our practice of piety will draw us to both interior and exterior reflection on the great truths of the Christian faith, including our Baptismal call to holiness and its implications, including the call to follow Jesus Christ into the world, and in our real, day to day life to carry forward His redemptive mission. We will fast, do penance and be encouraged to empty ourselves by giving alms. We will be exhorted to give ourselves back to the Lord and to live our lives as He did, on behalf of others.

Lent is observed for 40 days, exclusive of Sundays. That is the length of time Moses stayed in dialogue with the Lord, receiving both the instructions for building the Tabernacle and the Ten Commandments. The Israelites wandered for forty years in the desert, being made ready to receive the land of promise as a part of their universal mission to reveal God’s plan to the entire human race. Our Lord Jesus spent 40 days fasting and praying in the desert before embarking on his earthly mission. In order to more closely unite ourselves with Christ, we will imitate Him in fasting and prayer so as to be made ready to celebrate the climax of his passion on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday, the great Paschal mystery. All of this is to equip us to change and to carry forward His redemptive mission as the Body of Christ on earth; to be His Church on mission..

I believe that this Lent, 2005, presents a particular challenge and opportunity to Catholics in America. It is to that challenge and opportunity that I address this particular reflection. As one who has spent my entire life in authentic ecumenical work, I have high regard for other Christians and their communities. However, many of those communities do not have a developed body of teachings on social issues. Catholics do. Thus, among Christians in America at this moment in history, we are particularly obligated. After all “to those to whom much is given, much more will be required”

An American Moment?

Not only is today the last Sunday before Lent in the Catholic Liturgical calendar, it is also “Super Bowl Sunday” in America; a unique secular event that brings people together around sport, family and celebration. I look forward to being numbered among them, rooting for my boyhood team with my wife and my last child left at home, my son. There is so much that is wonderful about being an American. Particularly, the extraordinary freedoms we all enjoy.

The American and world news is filled with talk of the Inaugural address, the election in Iraq and growing discussions on the American role in world. One commentator I read wrote of what he called the “American moment.”

Are we really living in an “American moment”?

This has been an interesting few weeks for me.

I have had time to reflect on a number of events that have occurred in a unique sequence. This is partly because I have been ill with the flu. However, I think there is more to it than that. I suggest that the sequence of events is not accidental but rather presents an opportunity for some needed reflections concerning the particular role of Catholics in this American moment.

Just last month we remembered the thirty second “anniversary” of Roe v Wade. We also heard a profound (disturbing to some) Presidential Inaugural Address, followed by a State of the Union Address. We witnessed what many said would never happen, an Election in Iraq. And today, we received a blessing from the successor of Peter; however it was read by an Archbishop because our beloved Pope, John Paul II, is still hospitalized, quickly approaching that day that we know is soon to come when he will be called home to the Lord.

All of these are factored ...

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