Lent, a time for reflection and renewal, also shows us a forgiving God who always gives us a chance to do better. CNS photo/Bob Roller

Francis Campbell: Strike three, and with God, you still aren’t out

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  • March 12, 2021

Lent is a time for reflection and renewal.

Many Lenten observers will reflect on a year of COVID-19 fears, protocols and restrictions and hope and pray for a renewal that will bring us back to a sense of normalcy in which we are free to move about the country, gather and mark special occasions.

Of course, Lent is also the time for fasting, praying and sharing what we have with others.

All that established, I can hardly chronicle the third Sunday of Lent as one of my finest hours.

The day started with an ill-advised decision to turn down the opportunity to attend an in-person Mass early Sunday morning in our church, one of three in our recently amalgamated parish. The Sunday Mass is the only weekend service at our church, along with three other Masses at the other churches.

One of those other Masses, a late Sunday morning Mass, is live-streamed for those who cannot attend because of COVID precautions or the restricted numbers allowed in each building.

The live-streamed Mass is no doubt a tremendous consolation for those who cannot attend in-person but it became my Mass of choice for the third Sunday of Lent.

Strike one.

A lengthy suspension of public Masses in our area and the entire province was implemented by the provincial government last year, during the first wave of COVID, and a second temporary suspension of Masses affected the Halifax area, of which we are part, during a second wave.

The suspension of Masses because of COVID fears and restrictions lifts the obligation of Catholics to attend in-person Masses in the same way that other illnesses and unavoidable secular commitments make it impossible or unwise to attend Mass during non-COVID times.

COVID suspensions of Mass lifted the obligation to attend on Sundays and the live-stream provided a Mass when church doors were closed. Those watching a live-stream Mass cannot receive the Eucharist but can make a spiritual Communion during the virtual Mass.

Legitimate reasons to negate obligatory Mass attendance when church doors are open do not include lethargy or inertia, leaving me without an escape clause for a serious lapse in judgment.

My foray into Lenten letdowns did not end there on the third Sunday of Lent.

Firing up the computer some 10 minutes before the live-streamed Mass was to begin, I decided to use the time to complete a periodic work expense report. Having not completed the task before the Mass started, I pushed through on the expenses on a separate tab as the Mass broadcast began.

Strike two.

And moments later came the Gospel reading with Jesus castigating the money changers and those who were selling cattle, sheep and doves in the temple.

“Take these things out of here,” Jesus told the sellers. “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”

Maybe the Gospel message was not intended for my specific situation but it sure hit home.

The Gospel reading ends with a narrative about Jesus in Jerusalem during the Passover festival and many there who believed in His name because they had seen the signs that He was doing.

“But Jesus on His part would not entrust Himself to them, because He knew all people and needed no one to testify about human nature, for He Himself knew what was within the person,” the Gospel passage reads.

What is within the human person is to do what he or she knows is wrong, to do as we please with little regard for the divine will.

What is within the human person is the ability to convince oneself that a missed Mass won’t hurt anyone and that it can be replaced with a live-streamed Mass. It’s within the human person to allow one’s mind to drift instead of lending undivided attention to prayer, to Mass, to Lenten goals.

We don’t have to be trading cattle and sheep in the church yard to make ourselves a marketplace for activity that goes against what God intends for us.

The good news for the Catholic who falls short of his or her expectations, the expectations of others and of God’s will is that a third, fourth, fifth and more strikes are available from a forgiving God.

When you fall, you’ve got to get back up, brush yourself off and try, try again. The fourth Sunday of Lent provides an opportunity to do much better.

(Campbell is a reporter at the Halifax Chronicle-Herald.)

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