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The Florida Catholic

Friar who said Ash Wednesday Mass for Roumie, Wahlberg shares how to meet God in Lent's 'desert'


Father Mark-Mary Ames of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal had an atypical Ash Wednesday this year after celebrating an early morning Mass for actors Jonathan Roumie and Mark Wahlberg.

Hallow reached out to Father Mark-Mary, an author who has narrated an audiobook for the popular Catholic prayer app, about saying Mass Feb. 14 in New York City prior to the actors' morning appearance on "Fox & Friends" to talk about Hallow's huge increase in users following an advertisement it ran during the Super Bowl LVIII Feb. 11.

The friar enjoyed a brief conversation with Wahlberg and Roumie, who voice some prayers and other offerings on Hallow. Wahlberg starred in "Father Stu," a 2022 biographical drama about a prizefighter turned priest, and Roumie plays Jesus in the series "The Chosen."

Father Mark-Mary said the actors appear to be "sincere about their journey with the Lord" and have had "a real encounter with God and his goodness" in their lives. After such an encounter, he said, "it's natural to bring that to all the spheres of your world" and "their sphere happens to be massive because of their platform."

Regarding evangelization efforts through social media and the Hallow app, "there's no duplicate for real, lived, in-person, sacramental life," Father Mark-Mary said, "but this is where people are and so we have to be able to meet them there."

He said the actors are "meeting people in a very public space, but the end of the journey is to get these people into a place where they are alone in prayer encountering the Lord."

As the season of Lent begins, Father Mark-Mary said that rather than focusing on the things one gives up during this time, he would instead focus on how "the desert is ultimately a place of encountering God."

"Jesus goes to the desert right after his baptism, and it's there where he essentially is tested and shows his fidelity to God in his fatherhood. God the Father also shows his fidelity through his care for his son," he said.

"It's not about doing hard things," he added. "First and foremost, it's not about privations and discipline. It's really about identity. It's creating space in our lives to really, prayerfully be seen by the Lord."

Father Mark-Mary observed that the desert "is a place where you're just vulnerable. You're pretty exposed. And so, it's a place to really look at yourself, to come out of hiding, to be seen, to see yourself, but also then to be seen truly by the Lord as you are."

He recommended as a Lenten practice to examine in prayer "the things you don't normally want to look at and to talk about," because "that is the desert of the heart, that's the desert within and that's where we most need the Lord to come and to meet us."

Father Mark-Mary quoted Hosea 2:14-20, where the Lord says of Israel that he "will lead her into the desert" and "betroth" himself to her. Ash Wednesday coinciding with Valentine's Day this year can serve as "a beautiful reminder that Jesus comes to us as bridegroom, desiring to, in the desert, betroth himself to us," the priest said.

Father Mark-Mary's new book, "The Father: 30 Meditations to Draw You Into the Heart of God," received some unexpected attention on Ash Wednesday when Wahlberg and Roumie held up the copies he had given them in an Instagram video they made.

The friar said the book could be an aid in encountering God this Lent. The goal of the book, he explained is "to help the reader access and understand and receive: What does it actually mean for God to be a father?" through telling 30 different stories involving earthly and spiritual fathers. Each story highlights "some characteristic of the Father's heart, but in a way that's accessible and moving and then explaining how this is true of Jesus," he said.

"We all have such complex relationships with our earthly fathers," he said. "Some of them are great, but imperfect. Some of them are really core wounds. But what Jesus reminds us is that we really do, in him, have access to the best of fathers, and that those things that we desire, we have in God."

Read the article on the Florida Catholic.

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