As we make that final turn toward the culmination of our Lenten journey, many of us have attended or heard about parish Lenten missions. Such events are often either a series of talks by different speakers or the same speaker(s) on different topics. Supposedly, the main purpose of such missions or talks are to invite the members of the parish to a deeper meditation or reflection on their Lenten journey. If we are honest, these various missions achieve that goal with varying degrees of success. Some instances will leave members of the audience deeply moved to a much greater and personal reflection on their Lent. Other instances, however, will often leave audience members scratching their heads wondering what the topics particularly had to do with Lent or how what was presented would help their Lenten journey.
Examples of Excellent and Not So Excellent Missions
A series of talks regarding Christ’s Seven Last Words, the Stations of the Cross, Our Lord’s Passion, or particularly characters in the Passion narrative can often be powerful and fulfilling invitations and reminders of what Lent is all about. Even discussions on the above in the context of our present society can be wonderful experiences for the audience.
In contrast, presentations by therapists, social workers, lawyers, and other professionals regarding topics only marginally, or even totally independent, of Lent are very questionable topics for Parish Lenten Missions. A recent example I know of involved two wonderfully talented and faithful psychologists who discussed how to raise good Catholic children in today’s society presented to an audience of mostly older, 40 years of age and above, parishioners. Anyone who can explain to me how these presentations provide us with a deeper Lenten journey will be much appreciated. The fact that most audience members had already raised kids weakened the presentation a bit, bit what some did not get is what the topic really had to do with Lent.
Difference Between a Good Parish Mission and a Good Lenten Parish Mission
At this point it is important to clarify the difference between a good parish mission and a good Lenten parish mission. Most efforts I have ever seen are competently presented and provide useful and valuable information for the faithful to use in their lives. The question is to what degree that given presentation or series of presentations brings the audience to a deeper meditation on Lent itself. A presentation by a medical doctor on the physical suffering the Christ endured in his Passion can be a powerful and poignant Lenten presentation. On the other hand, a presentation by that same doctor on allergies can negatively impact our Easter celebration is not exactly deep thought personified.
Ultimately, the difference between a merely good presentation and a good Lenten effort is how that presentation impacts the listeners’ appreciation and reflection on their Lent at this time in their lives living in this particular world and society. To this degree, a wonderful presentation on how Lent practices have changed over the last century may or may not hit the mark depending on how the topic is handled and approached. If the tone is to show how things were so much better in the old days and no everything is pathetic or, conversely, now things are so much more enlightened now and how foolish people were way back when one can argue that this historical Lent presentation will do more harm than good. If, however, the presenter compares and explains previous practices, how they have changed, what their meaning was, and how present practices may represent the same or similar themes, that could be an enlightening experience indeed.
A pastor at a nearby parish recently explained in the bulletin why statues are covered during Lent. Not only does this topic bring back memories from my childhood, but it was really educational and made me feel closer to my Lenten journey.
Choice of Speakers/Presenters
Often the speakers or presenters will be priests, deacons, other religious, theologians, or experts in some field chosen because of their ability to make their presentation meaningful to an audience. Presenters should be chosen because of their ability to convey relevant Lenten messages and not because of their friendship or familiarity to the Pastor. The best speakers will leave the audience thinking more about their Lenten journey and remembering key themes or messages from the presentation. If I leave a Lenten presentation knowing five ways to make my teenager go to Mass I am not completely sure that presentation was a Lenten presentation.
The Ultimate Test
At the end of the day, I believe that whether or not a particular Lenten presentation, retreat, or mission should have been a Lenten presentation, retreat, or mission is Could this event have been conducted at any other time of the year with as effective or even a more effective result? In other words, how dependent or connected was this presentation or retreat to Lent?
Can parents in June or September benefit from a presentation on how to raise good Catholic kids? Of course ! Can grandparents in October or February benefit from ways to connect with their grandchildren about being Catholic? Certainly! How about a discussion of Christ’s Last Seven Words, The Stations of the Cross, the role of Veronica in the Passion, or the Good vs. Bad Thief go in August or May? Not such a good fit it seems to me. That last group represents what a good Lenten mission or retreat should be about because their themes and topics most effectively fit in Lent itself.
Parish Lenten retreats, missions, presentations, and talks should be about Lent or how Lent integrates with some aspect of our lives. They should not be about how to raise kids as good Catholics or bake Easter cookies. At the next level, I am not sure that presentations on how to pray the Rosary or prepare for Confirmation are good Lenten topics either. While this next level does touch on our faith and would make wonderful topics in general throughout the year, the question is why have them in Lent?
Would you put up a Christmas tree in April to celebrate Easter? Would you ask an eye doctor to give a talk on how caring for your kids’ eyes makes for a better observance of Holy Week? There is a time and place for every parish presentation as long as one an relate the topic to our faith. For Lenten presentations, however, the central question is what does this particular topic have to do with Lent or Christ’s ultimate example of loving sacrifice. Many Christmas and religious hymns are very beautiful. That does not make them Lenten hymns.
2019 Gabriel Garnica