Sharing faith recurring theme of Lenten season

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On Ash Wednesday at Faith Lutheran Church of Upper St. Clair, the Rev. Ron Weryha will be in the church bright and early.

“Anyone can stop from 6:30 a.m. to 8 a.m. to begin their Lenten observance and receive ashes,” he said. Services also will be held at noon and 7:30 p.m.

Ash Wednesday is next week, and Easter is April 20.

Rev. Weryha said his Lenten message will be about evangelism.

“Let people know about the Christian faith ... maybe even share the faith, invite them to church with you,” Rev. Weryha said. “If Jesus is going all the way to the cross for our sins, the least we can do is sacrifice a little of our pride or discomfort in talking to people about our faith.”

The annual observance of Lent in western Christianity begins on Ash Wednesday, or 46 days before Easter on the civil calendar. On the church, or liturgical calendar, however, it is 40 days before Easter because Sundays are excluded in the fasting period.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a believer’s Lenten journey in which the person is called on to reflect on the life, teachings and suffering of Christ in preparation for the Lord’s resurrection on Easter Sunday. This liturgical period is marked by prayer, fasting and abstinence. Ash Wednesday is named for the practice of marking the forehead with ashes in the shape of a cross to signify repentance.

Receiving ashes is intended to remind recipients of their mortality. Lent invites believers to examine their lives and make changes for themselves and others that will make them more pleasing to God.

While all Roman Catholic churches distribute ashes, observances by other Christian churches vary.

Evangelization will be the Lenten theme at St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Church in McKeesport. In Byzantine Catholic churches, Lent is called the Great Fast and begins Monday.

On Sunday, forgiveness vespers at 4 p.m. will be followed by anointing with blessed oil at St. Nicholas.

The monastic rite of forgiveness at St. Mary Romanian Byzantine Catholic Church in McKeesport will be done at the closing of all weekend Masses: 4:15 p.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Sunday.

In the rite, the clergy and congregation ask forgiveness. They then form a receiving line to forgive each other and everyone.

On Ash Wednesday, ashes will be distributed after services beginning at noon, 4:15 p.m. and 7 p.m., although it is not a Byzantine tradition.

Traditionally, the three spiritual practices encouraged as preparation for Lent are prayer, fasting and alms giving.

The Rev. Paul Voida said his Lenten theme will be about doing more fasting, more praying and more giving.

At St. Thomas More Church in Bethel Park, Ash Wednesday Masses with ash distribution will take place at 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. At 5 p.m., a prayer service with ashes will be held. From midnight Ash Wednesday until Holy Thursday, around-the-clock adoration will be held in which at least two worshipers from local churches, including non-Catholics, will pray in the church for at least an hour.

“We believe Jesus is present in the Eucharist and have it displayed even in the middle of night in the church,”' the Rev. Jim Farnan said.

His Lenten theme will be preparation and reminders that we are beloved.

“'People are encouraged to do extra penance and deny their flesh. That is why we eat fish on Friday: By not eating meat, we deny the flesh," Father Farnan said.

For Catholics and anyone else abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God in Castle Shannon will offer their customary Ash Wednesday takeout fare from 3 to 6 p.m. The menu will include haluski, a hearty dish of cabbage and noodles or dumplings, and a meatless vegetable lentil soup. Wedding soup with meat also will be available. All proceeds benefit the Sisters' ministries. Lunch is $5 per quart, payable by cash or check. To order: 412-885-7232.

At St. Bernard Church in Mt. Lebanon, those attending Ash Wednesday Masses at 7 a.m., 8 a.m., 10 a.m., 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. will receive a special greeting.

“It is a welcome card inviting them to light up their life at St. Bernard by embracing the spiritual activities that will take place during the Lenten season,” the Rev. Dave Bonnar said. Those activities will include spending time with Jesus at adoration and bearing witness by spreading the Gospel.

His Lenten theme will focus on the “new evangelization” of reaching out to those who have become lukewarm or fallen away from faith, as called for by Pope Benedict XVI, Father Bonnar said.

“It is making an old friend — Jesus — new again. It is done through our prayer and our collaborative efforts of reaching out,” he said.l

Margaret Smykla, freelance writer:

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