Local church pastors are stressing one central message this Lenten season: its time to take inventory of oneself and make changes.
The focus of the Lenten season is always forgiveness and reconciliation and self-examination, to figure out what you need to be forgiven of and who you need to forgive, said the Rev. Elizabeth Papazoglakis, rector of St. Johns Episcopal Church, Massena.
The Lenten message was shared during Ash Wednesday, which marks the first day of Lent, a 40-day liturgical period of prayer and fasting or abstinence for Christians.
In Potsdam, the Rev. James E. Barnes II, pastor of the United Methodist Church, preached on Plea and Advice during a 7 p.m. Ash Wednesday service.
Its a time of introspection, of faith examination, of preparation for both the gift of Good Friday and the joy and triumph of Easter, the Rev. Mr. Barnes said. If we dont do the Ash Wednesday service, and just do Sunday morning Lenten services, it doesnt convey quite the same message.
He said Lent should be taken seriously.
The real key thing is how we approach it and do things that are difficult at times. We can utilize this time. Its an opportunity for us to be especially aware of our relationship and be reconciled with God, to give God some great priority over what we do so often in the world that makes demands on us, he said. Really, the whole idea is to take our relationship with God seriously, to be reconciled with God. We have to do it by doing the right thing instead of just giving up.
During their Ash Wednesday service, he said, church members take a sheet of paper and write down things they regret doing, things they complained about and the people and things they were angry at during the year.
Then, taking a candle that represents Jesus Christ, they burn those sheets of paper in a kettle to show symbolically what giving this baggage up to Christ can do. Putting it behind you, you can reduce it to ashes and allow you to move forward on your faith journey, the Rev. Mr. Barnes said.
It has an impact. It moves me every year once I finally finish my list of things. The visual aspect of that is striking. We learn not just with words; we learn what we see, what we smell, what we feel, he said.
During the Lenten season, the church also has a Friday morning prayer group where members discuss various chapters from the Book of Proverbs. They also participate in community Lenten luncheons.
At St. Johns Episcopal Church in Massena, the Rev. Mrs. Papazoglakis said, church member Ron Morrow made a cross thats being used this Lenten season.
Its not quite life-sized, but almost, she said. There are pieces of paper and stick pins near the cross. People anonymously write what they need to be forgiven of and stick (the paper) on the cross.
On the night before Easter, when they light a new fire, all those pieces of paper will go up in the new fire of Easter, she said.
The Rev. Mrs. Papazoglakis also is working on a four-week project creating a personal timeline and timeline of St. Johns. She said its an opportunity to learn all the good things and regretful things that have happened in the history of the parish in our collective memory.
At the end of the four weeks, there will be time for reflection through a biblical story about reflection and forgiveness.
Introspection to determine what needs to be forgiven and then taking action is important during the Lenten season, the Rev. Mrs. Papazoglakis said.
Sin is anything thats bad between us and God. It can be people, it can be activities, it can be whatever, she said, noting people need to ask themselves, How am I not being the person God created me to be? and ask for forgiveness.
The parishes of Sacred Heart, Massena, and St. Lawrence, Louisville, along with St. Marys and St. Josephs in Massena, are working together on programs this Lenten season, according to the Rev. Donald J. Manfred, pastor of Sacred Heart and St. Lawrence. Among them is Oremus, a Lenten scripture study group that meets twice weekly at 6:30 p.m. Mondays and at 2 p.m. Tuesdays.
It started Monday night. We have 30-some people enrolled in that. That basically is focused on prayer and sacred scripture, he said.
Both parishes also offer Stations of the Cross at 11:15 a.m. Wednesdays at Sacred Heart Church and at 6:30 p.m. Fridays at St. Marys Church.
The other thing that Father Bryan (the Rev. Bryan D. Stitt, administrator of St. Marys and St. Josephs) is promoting is Adoration on Mondays and Fridays. People are invited to come for private prayer at the chapel at St. Marys. A number of people signed up over the weekend, Father Manfred said.
Those are being held from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays and Fridays in the St. Marys Family Room.
The parishes also are participating in ecumenical Lenten worship services and luncheons held at noon Wednesdays at St. Johns Episcopal Church. The services are sponsored by the Greater Massena Ecumenical Association, and a luncheon is provided in the church social hall following the service. Those continue through April 9.
Its a good ecumenical effort because people from various churches come together for prayer and to eat together, Father Manfred said.
His message during this Lenten season is to take time to renew ones faith.
I see it as a time of renewal of our faith. We focus on what Jesus said about prayer. We used to say almsgiving. Today we say sharing our blessings with those who have few and the whole concept of fasting. Fasting might have to do with perhaps spending more time reading or in prayer than we do watching TV or playing with our computer or iPods. Its time to change a little bit the course of our daily life, to make us more aware of the presence of God in our life, Father Manfred said.
Father Stitt said a reading from the book of Joel highlights whats important during the Lenten season: And rend your hearts, and not your garments, and turn to the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, patient and rich in mercy, and ready to repent of the evil.
The image Im giving them is the prophet Joel rending your hearts and not your garments, he said.
He said people need to ask themselves, How do we turn away from sin and get the good news? In order to do that, every year we hear prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It means putting first things first. How do we not get frustrated and actually continue to be fulfilled? What really matters? What is most important?