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From the Desk of the Pastor 

March 2, 2024

Good morning.

 

The season of Lent which is now observed by many Christian denominations, spans the 40 days leading up to Easter, and is traditionally marked by fasting, prayer, and penance. Beyond its spiritual significance, Lent can also have profound health benefits, both mental and physical. This is a period of time that encourages reflection, self-discipline, and moderation, principles that can contribute significantly to a healthier lifestyle.

 

I was fascinated in the days leading up to Lent in the media this year that some writers were picking up on the Christian season of Lent as a time to focus on good health.  Imagine my surprise when the following appeared in an article on the BBC News Health and Wellness web page: “The practice of fasting or giving up certain types of food during Lent can lead to improved physical health. Many people choose to abstain from consuming meat, sugary treats, or processed foods during this period. This shift towards a more plant-based diet, even temporarily, can result in better digestion, weight loss, and a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. The moderation in food intake can also enhance metabolic health, leading to better blood sugar control and improved cholesterol levels…….Moreover, the discipline of fasting teaches self-control and mindfulness about eating habits, encouraging individuals to make more conscious food choices. This heightened awareness can lead to a more balanced and nutritious diet, fostering a healthier relationship with food that extends beyond the Lenten season.

 

The BBC were not alone in extoling the virtues of Lent as a time to look after our health.  In the health section of the Globe and Mail, the regular reporter on Monday made a very astute observation on Lent and mental health:  “Lent can also have a positive impact on mental and emotional health. The season’s emphasis on prayer and reflection provides an opportunity for individuals to slow down and engage in introspection. This can lead to increased mental clarity, reduced stress levels, and a greater sense of inner peace. The practice of mindfulness and meditation, often encouraged during Lent, has been shown to have numerous health benefits, including lower blood pressure, improved sleep, and a reduction in anxiety and depression symptoms.”

 

Wow……has the media found religion and have the liturgical seasons of the church year become a new source of hip, lifestyle advice?   For years, spiritual writers have written about and preached on the three pillars of Lent; prayer, fasting and almsgiving, as an opportunity to enhance personal emotional well-being. Placing a discipline on eating or drinking habits and acts of kindness and giving back to the community have been linked to increased feelings of happiness, reduced stress, and a sense of belonging. And it is widely acknowledged that volunteering or helping others can create a sense of purpose and fulfillment, contributing to overall mental health.

 

A childhood memory that still lingers with me regarding Lent is that I am not doing this alone.  While there was a certain “drama” attached to the feeling that in some way we were burdened and we had to do this because we wanted to be “good Catholics”, we were in fact doing this as a community, family and friends together, participating in shared rituals and practices that fostered a sense of connection and support.  The recent “Lets Talk” day for mental health awareness reminded us that social support is a critical factor in mental health, helping individuals feel less isolated and more resilient in the face of life’s challenges.  The fact that we are doing this together can be a catalyst for long-term healthy habits. The discipline and routines developed during this period, such as regular fasting, increased physical activity, and dedicated times for prayer or meditation, can set the foundation for a healthier lifestyle that lasts well beyond the season. Sometimes in a conversation, I have been inspired when a parishioner shares that a practice they adopted during Lent, often several years earlier, has become an integral part of their daily lives, contributing to their ongoing health and well-being.

 

So, it is interesting then that from the outside looking in, some are finding that religious practices that we might, if we are honest, take a bit of a jaded approach to, are becoming another opportunity to remind everyone that faith and religion also have healthy practices that  promote a holistic approach to well-being that benefits both the body, mind and spirit.

 

As we promote the spiritual health of parishioners for Lent this year, we encourage you to join us at church during the week especially for Mass and for the traditional prayers of the church after Mass or in the quiet of the church at other times.  Stations of the Cross are prayed after the 9.00 am Mass on Wednesday and on Thursday after the 12.05 Mass the rosary is prayed.  The church is open every day from 9.00 am until 6.00 pm with the exception of Friday when it is open until 8.00 pm.  You will find several versions of the Stations of the Cross on a table by the parking lot entrance for private prayer.

 

This year we have not promoted a special book for Lent to parishioners.  Instead, I would like to promote the six talks that Fr. Timothy Radcliff OP gave in a retreat setting at the beginning of the Synod Process in Rome during the month of October last year.  The second (and final) part of the synod takes place, also during the month of October, this year.  Fr. Radcliff was personally invited by Pope Francis for this task.  He is a former Master General of the Dominican Order of Priests and readers will discover that he has travelled widely, often at great risk to himself.  He is an astute observer and listener to what is happening around him, and to the state of world and the church in the world.  Each talk is a meditation on why the church must listen and he gradually proposes a process for prayer, listening, speaking, reflection and consensus.  If you would like to participate with us in reading these talks (six talks during the retreat and two additional meditations during the synod process), we will make one available in hard copy each weekend until Easter for take-home in the church.  For those who are keen to have them all at once (28 pages), we can send them to you in a soft copy by email.    You can also hear (and watch) him deliver the lectures on YouTube by typing the following in your search page:  Fr. Timothy Radcliffe’s Reflections at the Synod on Synodality            

 

Parishioners who might like to have a retreat experience during Lent are invited to connect to the website of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops for their annual Lenten program.  This year, the Bishops present "Journey through Lent" with the Most Rev. Stephen Hero, Bishop of Prince Albert, and the Most Rev. Mark Hagemoen, Bishop of Saskatoon.  Built around the theme “Your Father who sees in secret will reward you” — Matthew 6:4b  Each Monday, a new reflection is posted on their website which invites us to reflect on the Scriptures for the Sundays of Lent 2024.Watch the first reflection here: www.cccb.ca/lent

 

Finally, three brief announcements: 1. You will notice that the two paintings in the sanctuary have been taken down.  They are on their way this week to be cleaned and to have some minor scratches and tears repaired.  This work we are told could take up to three months. 

2. The series on Vatican II that we postponed from the fall will be offered in five parts after Easter during the day and in the evening.  Dates and more information in the next few weeks. 

3. St. Andrew's former Organist and Music Director, Charles Demuynck, will conduct a concert entitled Jewish Heritage on February 24.  The Oakville Chamber Orchestra concert will take place at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts, at 7:30 pm.  Featured are Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, and Mahler songs with the Grammy-award-winning Canadian Baritone, Kevin McMillan.  Also featured are works by Mendelssohn and Prokofiev.  Here is a clip of the orchestra rehearsing Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture: 20240204_150653.mp4 - Google Drive  Tickets are available at Oakville Chamber Orchestra Jewish Heritage (oakvillecentre.ca)

 

I hope that this Lent will be a fruitful one for all of you and that you will have space and time for a few moments in that quiet place to experience the nearness of God.

 

Be well,

 

Msgr. Con

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