A Lenten Message to Our Glenmary Partners

 Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, March 1, 2017

For 20 minutes, a young man (I’ll call him “Rich”) stood in Father Bob Dalton’s living room, silent, gazing at Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn’s painting of “The Return of the Prodigal Son.”

For many years, alcoholics like Rich have sought Father Bob’s counsel as they work through the fifth of Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12 steps: Admit to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. The step calls for a confession of sorts, and Father Bob believes people feel comfortable talking to him because of his 50-plus years of hearing confessions and giving absolution through the sacrament of reconciliation.

Now a Glenmary senior member and a sacramental minister for Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Houston, Miss., a mission that Glenmary returned to the Diocese of Jackson in 2014, Father Bob could be slowing down in his “retirement.” Instead, like many Glenmary senior members, he has continued his ministry.

Asking for forgiveness, like almsgiving, is a hallmark of the Lenten season. It is a time to repent, to consider Christ’s sacrifice for us and to strengthen our commitment to our faith. While Lent is a traditionally penitential season, last year Pope Francis encouraged us to celebrate God’s mercy during Lent. It is a shift in focus that I appreciate, because it encourages all of us to be active instruments of God’s love and to spread his grace through our words, deeds and gifts.

Nowhere is God’s mercy more apparent than in the parable of the Prodigal Son. Perhaps God’s great mercy and the overwhelming power of forgiveness and redemption are what Rich was contemplating as he intently gazed at Rembrandt’s painting.

The fifth step is a painful hurdle in many alcoholics’ journey, and Father Bob told me how grateful people like Rich are after he hears their “confession” and they are unburdened of their guilt. It is similar to the relief many Catholics feel after leaving the confessional.

Without donors, Father Bob could not provide this solace. The gifts of our friends help Father Bob continue to live in Houston and tend to the spiritual needs of his small, rural Mississippi community. Your gifts ensure that he can provide the sacraments and comfort to people in need.  Your gifts ensure Glenmarians around the nation can do the same.

Father Bob estimates that he has helped more than hundreds of people complete step five, and the count continues to grow. His reputation for listening attentively and gently offering advice has spread, possibly by word of mouth at AA meetings, and people appreciate that he is willing to hear their “confession” in a living room or a confessional.

However, for many, confession can still be intimidating. Perhaps, like Rich, people fear their sins are beyond redemption. Father Bob often encounters reluctance and tries to alleviate their concerns. Sometimes, he has a little help.

Recently, while catechists were preparing children for their First Reconciliation, they encouraged parents to participate in the sacrament – the first confession in many years for some parents. When Father Bob and the other priests finished hearing the children’s confessions, adults began to trickle in. One woman entered the reconciliation room and thanked Father Bob for the moving experience he had provided for her son. She told Father Bob that the boy had asked if she was going to confession. When she hesitated, he said, “Mom, you really need to go. Don’t be afraid, you can tell him anything!”

As you approach the season of Lent, I encourage you to remember the stories of Rich and the little boy. Both show us the overwhelming power of God’s mercy. It can render us speechless or spur us to act. I hope, in keeping with Pope Francis’ directive, that God’s mercy moves you to act this Lenten season.

Please consider making a Lenten gift to support Glenmarians like Father Bob. A donation of any amount will further the work of Glenmary priests, brothers and coworkers, allowing them to transform communities, grow the church, impact people’s lives and spread the good news in rural areas of the United States where it has never been proclaimed before.

Thank you for your ongoing support and for affording people who seek redemption, regardless of the liturgical calendar or their faith, the relief they seek. Without your generosity, the stories of Father Bob’s ministry could never have taken place. You are crucial to the success of our mission work.

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