What's it all about?

Ash Wednesday can seem to appear out of nowhere, as it does this year when it comes so early on the calendar.  Here are some "starter questions" for your prayer and reflection over the next couple of days...
1) Lent is a kind of spiritual spring training for Christians.  What has grown weak, what's out of shape in my spiritual life?  in my prayer life? in my relationship with Jesus?  How do I need to exercise my spiritual life to condition and strengthen it?  What in my spiritual life needs stretching and working out?  What small steps might I take every day in Lent to develop a discipline, a routine in my prayer?

2) Lent is a time for fasting and going without.  What fills me up?  What food and drink, what leisure and entertainment, what work and activity stuffs my body, my heart, mind and imagination, my days and nights, my self?  If I experienced in my body the hunger of fasting and giving things up for Lent, might I discover a hunger for more satisfying, substantive food for my soul?

 3) Lent is a time for giving to the poor (almsgiving).  What's my attitude to the poor? to the plight of refugees? what are my prejudices about them? Over the course of the year, how much do I give to the poor? How much of my time do I give to serving the poor?  When I complain about what I don't have, do I take an honest look at all I do have? Could it be that I actually have more than I really need?  How might I simplify my life this Lent - and how would that free me to give more to others?
Lent is a time to live for forty days 
the way a Christian should live all year round!

So, some questions and thoughts to help us begin to begin Lent this Wednesday, a season of 40 days intended to help us prepare to celebrate Easter with minds, hearts and habits refreshed and renewed by the Word and sacraments, by our Lenten practice - by the grace of God.

Ash Wednesday Prep
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The Word for Ash Wednesday

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The scriptures for Ash Wednesday are rich and thick with nourishment - almost too much for a day of fasting!

Savor these words at home before hearing them proclaimed in the liturgy. Perhaps part of your Lenten resolve will be to read and study the scriptures each week in Lent to prepare to celebrate the Eucharist. And of course, every week you will find reminders and links to the Sunday scriptures and commentary of them here at A Concord Pastor Comments!

Scriptures for Ash Wednesday
A reading from the book of the prophet Joel

Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.
For gracious and merciful is he,
slow to anger, rich in kindness,
and relenting in punishment.
Perhaps he will again relent
and leave behind him a blessing,
Offerings and libations
for the LORD, your God.

Blow the trumpet in Zion!
proclaim a fast,
call an assembly;
Gather the people,
notify the congregation;
Assemble the elders,
gather the children
and the infants at the breast;
Let the bridegroom quit his room
and the bride her chamber.
Between the porch and the altar
let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep,
And say, “Spare, O LORD, your people,
and make not your heritage a reproach,
with the nations ruling over them!
Why should they say among the peoples,
‘Where is their God?’”

Then the LORD was stirred to concern for his land
and took pity on his people.

Psalm 51

R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.

Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.

R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.

For I acknowledge my offense,
and my sin is before me always:
“Against you only have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight.”

R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.

A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.

R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.

Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.

A reading from the second letter of Paul
to the Corinthians

Brothers and sisters:
We are ambassadors for Christ,
as if God were appealing through us.
We implore you on behalf of Christ,
be reconciled to God.
For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin,
so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

Working together, then,
we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.
For he says:
In an acceptable time I heard you,
and on the day of salvation I helped you.

Behold, now is a very acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation.

A reading from the holy gospel
according to Matthew

Jesus said to his disciples:

“Take care not to perform righteous deeds
in order that people may see them;
otherwise, you will have no recompense
from your heavenly Father.
When you give alms,
do not blow a trumpet before you,
as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets
to win the praise of others.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you give alms,
do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,
so that your alms giving may be secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

“When you pray,
do not be like the hypocrites,
who love to stand and pray in the synagogues
and on street corners
so that others may see them.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

“When you fast,
do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.
They neglect their appearance,
so that they may appear to others to be fasting.
Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you fast,
anoint your head and wash your face,
so that you may not appear to be fasting,
except to your Father who is hidden.
And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”

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Monday Morning Offering: 2/8

Coffee in the Morning

Good morning, good God!

In 48 hours it will be Ash Wednesday
and Lord, I want, 
actually I need,
for this to be a good Lent...

I need to make a new beginning
and I need your help to do that...

I want to be refreshed
by making peace with you,
with some people in my life
- and with myself...

It's time for me to take a spiritual inventory:
to count my sins
and number all your countless mercies....

You offer me this season of grace, Lord,
and I truly need
what you so freely give...

And you and I know, Lord,
that I've been here before,
many, many times...

As my New Year's resolutions often quickly fade,
so my Lenten promises sometimes last no longer
than the ashes on my brow...

Keep me faithful this Lent to what I promise
for prayer, 
for fasting 
and for works of mercy...

Keep me modest in my Lenten plans
that I might be faithful to them, 
even if only in a few small things...

And if I stumble or fall along the way
then pick me up, dust me off,
and set me back on the path I pledged to walk...

Let me take no pride 
when I am faithful to my Lenten pledge:
but rather humble me with your grace
and remind me that without you
I can do nothing...

I offer you the 40 days ahead, Lord,
and pray you help me live this season
- just one day at a time...

Help me to pray, a day at a time...
Help me to sacrifice my own pleasure, a day at a time...
Help me to be generous and merciful, a day at a time...

Keep me faithful every day to prayer
to help me see you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
follow you more nearly...

Keep me faithful in my efforts
to give up and to go without those things
I really don't need
and depend on much too much...

Whenever, wherever I might be merciful,
make me as generous to others
as you have been to me...

As I walk this Lenten journey, Lord,
help me meet the needs of those whose paths cross mine,
all those who walk beside, behind, before me:
family and friends, neighbors and strangers... 

Walk by my side this Lent, Lord,
and remind me every day
how this season is first my offering to you,
and then a grace for me...

One day at a time this Lent, Lord:
you and me, with the Church,
in the grace of your Holy Spirit,
one day at a time,
until the day of Easter joy...


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Would you like one of these for Lent?

Each year my parish distributes a Lenten reminder to help us keep this holy season in mind and heart throughout its forty days.  For several years now, we've given little wooden pocket crosses.

This year's pocket cross picks up the theme of Pope Francis' Year of Mercy and its scripture verse is taken from Colossians 3:12-14.
Because you are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, 
clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy
with kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 
Bear with one another; 
forgive whatever grievances you have against one another. 
Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you. 
And over all these put on love, 
that is, the bond of perfection.
If you would like one of these crosses for your own prayer and use, please send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to me at:
Fr. Austin Fleming
55 Church Street
Concord, MA 01742
Please do not send any money.  If you wish to make an offering, please give it to your own favorite charity or to mine: the St. Boniface Haiti Foundation (see the sidebar on this page).


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At the end of the storm...

 the sun came out to kiss my church!


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Update 2/4

I’ve been home from the Brigham since Sunday afternoon, after just about 72 hours in the hospital for my bariatric surgery. In addition to my thanks for your prayers, messages, emails, cards, support and love I want to offer just a few post-op remarks on my experience

First, I praise God from whom all blessings flow.  I certainly feel blessed to have such amazing medical science and an expert hospital team within about a half hour of my home.  I think of those who have little or no access to such medical care and I realize how much I can easily take for granted.

I come out of this experience with a whole new appreciation for what it means to be a patient in a hospital. Though I’ve been visiting the sick for 44 years in my ministry, this was the first time I was the person in the bed for a serious reason.  Part of the excellent care I received included the nursing staff’s around the clock vigilance, regularly checking on me, helping me, poking and injecting with me and “checking my vitals.”  I learned that, for good reasons, a hospital is no place to rest or catch up on sleep!  I was hospitalized for a little less than 72 hours.  I have new found respect for those who are in a hospital bed for a much longer period of time.

Making the decision to have this surgery took me a number of years.  I’ve never been afraid of the cut of the surgeon’s knife: what I feared was what this procedure would cut out of my social life  - and this kept me from moving ahead.  Finally I accepted the reality that carrying my weight was a potential danger to my life in general.  The diet I’ve been on since the end of October 2015 taught me that I can be carefully attentive to what I eat and drink -and- still enjoy life! Between November and the end of January I lost 31 pounds just by eating sensibly (over the holidays!).  But I knew that over the years I’d done this before and that what I needed was more than will power. I was faithful to my sensible eating last fall primarily to qualify for the surgery.

I feel very confident that this was the right step to take.   Day by day and hour by hour I am grateful that I took this step – and grateful to all who patiently encouraged me as I deliberated.  I love life and I love the life that’s mine in ministry and I want to live it as long as possible as a healthy man. 

I’m grateful to Myles Sheehan, SJ and Charlie Gallagher, SJ for covering for me on two weekends and to Sr. Rose Marie and Deacons Chuck Clough and Gregory Burch for standing by for pastoral calls that come in while I’m away. My prayer, hope and goal: to be ready to be for Ash Wednesday and to begin the Holy Season of Lent with my parish.

Until then I’m living a life of leisure (rest) and liquids (water, broth, jello and protein shakes).  After two weeks of this I'll move on to mush - which I eagerly anticipate!

Once again, the greatest thing you can offer me is the gift of your prayers, for which I’m truly grateful.  And here’s one particular way for you to pray that would truly lift my spirits:  wherever you are, come to church to pray on Ash Wednesday – even and especially if you haven’t observed Ash Wednesday (2/10) for a long time.  It’s the best way to enter this special season called Lent, a kind of “spring training” for a Christian’s mind and heart.  Google or call your local parish now to find out the times for Ash Wednesday services and make plans to be there!


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My surgery went very well on Friday and I was discharged from the hospital on Sunday afternoon - I'm home now getting rest and building up my strength. So many are asking how they can help me. Truly, my needs are very simple right now: rest and fluids! My diet is a very strict one for the next month and everything needs to be of a particular kind and measurement so (with help from two people) I'm staying on that plan and can't deviate. I have more than enough books and movies (and Netflix) to fill many months of rest. No rides needed at the moment - but I know I can call on many should the need arise. Here's something everyone CAN do: pray that I get used to taking my meds in crushed form over red jello - what a way to spoil perfectly tasty jello! Once again, thank you all for your prayers, support and love!

Every day, even hour by hour, I'm more certain and confident that this was the right choice to make - and I look forward to the difference this will make in my life!

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!


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My turn to ask for your prayers...

May I ask for your prayers?

On Friday of this week I'll be having bariatric (weight loss) surgery.  I'll be in the hospital for about two days and then recuperating at home for up to two weeks. 

(If you follow the link you'll find another for a video on the procedure I'll be having.  The surgeon in the video is the one who'll be operating on me.)

While I'm confident about this decision and pleased to have finally made it, I would still appreciate your prayerful support.

I'm not sure when I'll feel up to blogging and posting so my place in cyber space will be quiet for at least a while.  In the meantime, you can always visit my blog and check the archive links on the side bar.  I've been blogging daily for eight years so there should be enough there to cover some days off.

With this post, I'll be going off the grid and will begin to write and reply when I'm feeling up to it.

Thank you, in advance, for your prayerful support!


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Pause for Prayer: THURSDAY 1/28

Help me today, Lord,
   to do no wrong to my neighbor,
   to do no wrong to my family,
   to do no wrong to my friends,
   to do no wrong to my coworkers,
   to do no wrong to strangers,
   to do no wrong to anyone,
   to do no wrong to myself... 
Owe no debt to anyone
except the debt that binds us
to love one another...
Love never wrongs the neighbor...
- Romans 13


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Pause for Prayer: THURSDAY 1/28

Help me today, Lord,
   to do no wrong to my neighbor,
   to do no wrong to my family,
   to do no wrong  to my friends,
   to do no wrong to my coworkers, 
   to do no wrong to strangers,
   to do no wrong to anyone,
   to do no wrong to myself... 
Owe no debt to anyone 
   except the debt that binds us
      to love one another...
Love never wrongs the neighbor...
-Romans 13


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