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Asking the Clergy: How has the pandemic changed Lenten sacrifice?

The Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred B. Vergara of

The Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred B. Vergara of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, the Rev. Barbara Whitlow of United Methodist Church of Huntington-Cold Spring Harbor, and the Rev. Msgr. Thomas M. Coogan of St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church. Credit: Holy Trinity Episcopal Church; Barbara Whitlow; Diocese of Rockville Centre

Personal sacrifice is a tradition during Lent, the solemn religious observance that begins on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17, and ends on Easter Sunday, April 4. This week’s clergy discuss how the pandemic has lifted up new ways of sacrificing during Lent, when Christians attempt to follow the example of Jesus Christ during his time spent in the desert preparing for his ministry.

The Rev. Msgr. Thomas Coogan

Pastor, St. Dominick Roman Catholic Church, Oyster Bay

The biggest change for me is my increased appreciation of the power of shared sacrifice. Before COVID-19, my sense of the traditional Catholic Lenten sacrifices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving was of a more private, personal sacrifice: "What am I going to give up this year?"

However, the past 12 months have schooled us all in what great good we can accomplish when we sacrifice together. Despite the tragic loss of so many, the heroism of our hospital and nursing home staffs and the shared sacrifice of personal freedom has bought the world the time to get out a vaccine, God’s answer to innumerable prayers.

This Lent, I believe additional shared sacrifice could bring much-needed healing. Patiently wait for vaccination by praying every day that someone who needs it more is getting it instead. Fast from political media that so poisons our nation. Give alms by supporting charities that have not been able to hold the fundraisers that usually support them. After the last year, these are the kinds of sacrifices I would love to see this Lent.

The Rev. Canon Winfred Vergara

Priest-in-Charge, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Hicksville

In the past, Lent has often been about focusing on, and giving up for a time, such simple pleasures as eating chocolate. But this year, we might focus instead on how others are affected by our actions; how the places we go and the things we do have repercussions on other people.

With houses of worship limiting attendance to curb the spread of COVID 19, we can’t experience the sacraments together. But the absence of the Eucharist in liturgical churches can be a form of fasting, as we hunger for the holy Mass and the Body and Blood of Christ in Communion, and eagerly long for the last day of coronavirus.

Those who pray for that day can make a relevant Lenten sacrifice by protecting others as well as themselves — by wearing masks, observing physical distancing, washing hands frequently and getting vaccinated. We are challenged by the pandemic but not crushed; we have felt helpless but are not driven to despair. In the midst of death, we proclaim life; in the midst of darkness, we proclaim light, and in the midst of political conflicts, we must reconcile. With deepened spirituality we can truly say, "Alleluia! Christ is risen indeed!"

The Rev. Barbara Whitlow

Pastor, Huntington Cold Spring Harbor United Methodist Church

When the pandemic hit our nation last year, it was in the middle of the Lenten season. It felt like Lent never ended as the entire year became a sacrificial journey: no touching, no in-person gatherings, wearing a mask, all amid a lockdown. Before the COVID-19 virus reached our nation, sacrifice during Lent meant repentance, reflection, restricting one's diet and giving up frivolous things to devote more time with God.

Considering the devastation and trauma in people's lives caused by the pandemic, Lent calls us to a different place this year. The prophet Hosea summoned us to a place of "steadfast love rather than sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings." (Hosea 6:6) Personal sacrifice and self-control are still worthwhile endeavors, but what God desires most of all is a heart filled with compassion showing mercy and love to all.

God desires justice, dismantling systemic racism and oppression, providing food for the hungry and shelter to the homeless (Isaiah 58:6). To love all persons is the best way to demonstrate love and appreciation for God and reflect God's love to the world.

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