Archive for the ‘Lent’ Category

To Serve and Be Served

Sunday, April 17th, 2011

The scripture readings during the course of Holy Week offer several examples of service. On Holy Thursday, there is the beautiful image of Jesus washing the feet of his apostles (John 13:1-15). Here is the Son of God bending low to remove the dirt from his follower’s feet. He instructs his followers: “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

On Good Friday, we walk the way of the cross with Jesus, and witness the service of Simon of Cyrene (Mark 15:21). Simon was pressed into service to help Jesus carry the cross. It may not have been willing service. In fact, Simon may have regarded himself as being in the wrong place at the wrong time, yet serve he did. After the Crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea goes to Pilate and asks for Jesus’ body so that he may bury him in his own tomb (John 19:38). Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome hurry to the tomb as soon as the Sabbath is over in order to anoint Jesus’ body (Mark 16:1). These, too, are examples of service.

Most of us understand that we need to be of service to others. Sometimes, like Jesus, we do so willingly. Other times we are more like Simon of Cyrene and perform our duty somewhat reluctantly, perhaps even with a tad bit of resentment. Still, we serve.
If we are serving, however, then someone else is being served. In Scripture, Jesus not only serves. When He is in need, He allows himself to be served. If you are anything like me, you might find that to be the harder part of the serving equation. I am happy to serve (at least most of the time). I try to do what I can to help other people. I find it incredibly difficult, on the other hand, to allow someone else to serve me. I am much more like Peter at the Last Supper, protesting to Jesus, “You will never wash my feet.” (John 1:8)

I know I can’t do everything alone. Without question, I need God’s help. I pray daily for it and can’t imagine life without His assistance. It’s having other people help me that makes me cringe. I like to be self-sufficient. Stuck in my pride, I’m like a three-year-old stubbornly insisting “I can do it myself.”

I have gotten a little better with age. I’m still reluctant to ask for help, but if it is offered, I do try to accept gracefully. I have come to understand that other people need to serve as well, and sometimes it is OK if I am the beneficiary of that service. Indeed, I am thankful for it.

We all need each other in this world. As important as it is to serve, it is also important to allow oneself to be served. Sometimes, that can be the harder lesson to learn.

The Scriptural Way of the Cross

Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

My original intent when sitting down to write tonight was to reflect on the image of Jesus falling under the weight of the cross in the Stations of the Cross. In the traditional Stations, Jesus falls three times. I think most of us can relate to that image. This Lent, that is the image I can most relate to. My personal cross feels very heavy and I am struggling under the strain, trying to find the resolve to keep going. I take comfort in the idea that Jesus struggled as well.

However, as I did some research to further develop this reflection, I came across a fact that I was not aware of – there are actually two approved sets of Stations of the Cross. The traditional Stations of the Cross firmly established since the 1700s have some basis in Scripture, but not all the stations are scripturally based. Pope John Paul II established a Scriptural Way of the Cross on Good Friday 1991 and used them several times during his papacy. In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI approved this set of stations for meditation and public celebration.

The Vatican website offers the following statement:

With the biblical Way of the Cross the intention was not to change the traditional text, which remains fully valid, but quite simply to highlight a few «important stations» which in the textus receptus are either absent or in the background. And indeed this only emphasises the extraordinary richness of the Way of the Cross which no schema can ever fully express.

The biblical Way of the Cross sheds light on the tragic role of the various characters involved, and the struggle between light and darkness, between truth and falsehood, which they embody. They all participate in the mystery of the Passion, taking a stance for or against Jesus, the «sign of contradiction» (Lk 2, 34), and thus revealing their hidden thoughts with regard to Christ.

Making the Way of the Cross, we, the followers of Jesus, must declare once more our discipleship: weeping like Peter for sins committed; opening our hearts to faith in Jesus the suffering Messiah, like the Good Thief; remaining there at the foot of the Cross of Christ like the Mother and the Disciple, and there with them receiving the Word which redeems, the Blood which purifies, the Spirit which gives life.
http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/documents/ns_lit_doc_via-crucis_en.htm

The traditional Stations of the Cross are as follows:
1. Jesus is condemned to death
2. Jesus is given his cross
3. Jesus falls the first time
4. Jesus meets His Mother
5. Simon of Cyrene carries the cross
6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
7. Jesus falls the second time
8. Jesus meets the daughters of Jerusalem
9. Jesus falls the third time
10. Jesus is stripped of His garments
11. Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross
12. Jesus dies on the cross
13. Jesus’ body is removed from the cross
14. Jesus is laid in the tomb and covered in incense.
15. The Resurrection

The Scriptural version, including the Scriptural reference, are as follows:
1. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane Matthew 26:36-41
2. Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested Mark 14: 43-46
3. Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin Luke 22: 66-71
4. Jesus is denied by Peter Matthew 26: 69-75
5. Jesus is judged by Pilate Mark 15: 1-5, 15
6. Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns John 19: 1-3
7. Jesus takes up His cross John 19: 6, 15-17
8. Jesus is helped by Simon to carry His cross Mark 15: 21
9. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem Luke 23: 27-31
10. Jesus is crucified Luke 23: 33-34
11. Jesus promises His kingdom to the repentant thief Luke 23: 33-34
12. Jesus entrusts Mary and John to each other John 19: 25-27
13. Jesus dies on the cross Luke 23: 44-46
14. Jesus is laid in the tomb Matthew 27: 57-60

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops offers a set of reflections and prayers to use with these stations at http://www.usccb.org/nab/stations.shtml.

Why Giving Something Up for Lent Matters

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

It’s a common question: Why would you want to give something up for Lent when you could do something positive instead? After all, shouldn’t Lent be a time of self-improvement? Shouldn’t we pray more? Give more away? Be kinder, more patient, and more willing to forgive? Yes! Yes! and Yes! We should absolutely do all those things. But, giving something up for Lent still matters.

The three traditional pillars of Lenten observance are prayer, almsgiving, and fasting. The three are intimately interconnected and all help us become more loving.

Prayer is conversation with God. It draws us into deeper relationship with God, and by extension, our neighbor. It allows us to focus on what matters, what God wants us to do, and to live a life of Christian love.

Almsgiving calls us to be generous – to help those in need. It invites us to live with less and give out of love. What do we need? What can we live without? What are we attached to that could better be used by someone else?

Which brings us to fasting. Traditionally, fasting meant having only water or, perhaps, bread and water. While some still practice such an extreme fast, the term has a looser interpretation today. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday those between the ages of 18 and 59 who are physically able to fast are asked to eat only one full meal and two smaller meals with no eating between meals.

What we tend to refer to as “fasting” from something in particular is more accurately termed “abstaining.” On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and all Fridays of Lent, Catholics over the age of 14 should abstain from meat.

Nevertheless, whether you call it “fasting” or “abstaining,” giving something up you enjoy during the Lenten season has value. If you give up a specific food, the money you save not buying that food can be given to charity. If you give up an entertainment (television, computer, etc), you can use the time you save more wisely. You can spend it in quality time with your family or other people. Either way, your fasting directly leads to a greater love of neighbor.

In addition, giving something up helps build spiritual character. Making sacrifices is hard. There are many times in life when we have to do things and avoid things we may not want to. Deliberately avoiding something for a greater purpose helps us develop discipline and mastery over our bodies and desires. While it might not make it easy to make those bigger sacrifices; it does help make it easier. Self-control in small things leads to self-control in larger things. This also helps us live a life more fully centered on love.

This holy season, embrace the three aspects of Lenten observance. Pray, give generously, and sacrifice. By the time Easter comes, you will have become a better, more loving, person as a result.

Get Out of Your Spiritual Comfort Zone!

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

I am a creature of habit. I tend to exercise the same way, eat the same things, and engage in the same activities. When I go for a walk, I usually take the same route. My work, though varied, normally involves the same type of tasks. I get up and go to bed at the same time every day.

Every now and then, however, I do branch out of my tried and true routine and try something new. This week has found me learning how to play chess. No big deal, right? Well, it is to me because I swore that it was something I simply could not do. My children have played since they were small. I’ve tried before to learn and been totally lost. Over the years, they have begged and begged me to learn.

“We will teach you, Mom! You can do it.”

“But I can’t get it. My brain doesn’t understand how it works.”

“You can try. You always tell us we have to try.”

Umm. . . Good point. Don’t you hate when your children use your own words against you?

So, a children’s library book on chess later, I am proud to report that I can now actually play chess. There is no danger of my reaching Grand Master status, but I now know how the pieces move, and I can play the game with them. I even won once (I would love to say that was due to my skill, but pure luck gets all the credit). To my surprise, I find I am enjoying the game!

Getting out of one’s comfort zone and trying something new can be good for both the mind and the spirit. With Lent right around the corner, it is a good time to think about getting out of your spiritual comfort zone. What is something that you could do this Lent that would stretch your spiritual muscles?

Perhaps you always meditate, but tend not to use any formal prayers. Perhaps this is the time you could commit to trying to pray a rosary every day, or say a novena for a special intention. Or, the reverse could be true. Perhaps you rely on formal prayer but you have never been able to meditate. Consider taking a few minutes a day to simply sit in God’s presence.

If you always give something up for Lent, perhaps this could be the year you try to do something extra. If you always do something extra, this could be the year you try fasting from a favorite food or activity.

There are many ways to engage in some new spiritual activity this Lent. You could attend daily Mass, or say the “Stations of the Cross” every day. You could make greater use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You could engage in greater charitable giving, or make a concerted effort to work on a particularly difficult personal relationship.

Lent is a time set aside to help us work on ourselves, to dedicate our lives to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Hopefully, by the time Easter morning greets us, we are a little bit better, a little bit stronger in our spiritual lives. Lent offers the invitation to get out of our spiritual comfort zone and try something new. May it be a holy season for all of you.

Book Review: “Pausing to Pray – Lenten Meditations for Busy People”

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Pausing To Pray Lenten Meditations for Busy People
With Excerpts from the Diary of St. Faustina and Meditations by Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception
Compiled and arranged by Sarah M. Chichester
Stockbridge, MA: Marian Press, 2010

Lent is right around the corner. “Pausing to Pray: Lenten Meditations for Busy People” offers short reflections for each day from Ash Wednesday through Divine Mercy Sunday. Each day features an excerpt from St. Faustina’s Diary which focuses on Divine Mercy and then a short meditation from one of the Marian Fathers. The contributing Fathers include such notables as Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, author of “No Turning Back: A Witness to Mercy,” Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, Director of the Association of Marian Helpers and author of the “Consoling the Heart of Jesus,” and Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, world-renowned authority on the Divine Mercy Message and the life of St. Faustina.

The reflections are short and thought-provoking and will aid in devotion during the spiritual season of Lent. The booklet can be used year after year. It also features an examination of conscience, St. Faustina’s Way of the Cross, the Novena to Divine Mercy, and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.

This is the reflection for the First Saturday of Lent:

Jesus, I accept everything that You wish to send me; I trust in your goodness. (Diary, 190)

Meditation

Dear Jesus, I am afraid of what I would have to give up if I gave You my unconditional ‘Yes.’ I guess I don’t trust you enough. How did St. Faustina come to a complete surrender to You? She knew You better than I do. Help me to come to know You more deeply, Lord. I don’t want to be afraid of the path that You have picked out for me. Help me to believe that You will be with me every step of the way and that my surrender to You won’t lead to misery, but is the key to my happiness.

40 Days Later

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

At the start of Lent, I wrote how much I needed it this year. I needed that special time to fast and sacrifice and focus on my relationship with God. I also took on a challenge with my home – to get 40 bags worth of stuff out of my house. While many around me questioned whether I could accomplish that goal, I persevered. I marshaled the help of my family members. One item at a time, one bag at a time, four trips to my local donation center later, the mission was completed Holy Saturday. I would like to say that my house is now spotless, that we are free of clutter and now living a minimalist lifestyle. The sad reality is that my house is still rather cluttered. In fact, someone walking into it probably wouldn’t notice much difference at all. There are still a couple things I need to get rid of, but that won’t do much for the clutter, either.

Most of the stuff I got rid of was stuff that was hidden away. There were so many things in closets and cabinets and that catch-all of places, my basement. Going through it all was like doing a review of my life. I had done a large purge five years ago when I moved, but in some ways, this one was more thorough. I was forced to truly evaluate each item, whether it still had any value to me, if it could serve someone else better, or if I just needed to throw it in the recycling bin (as much as I might like to think otherwise, there is no one on earth that needs to read papers I wrote in college.) I wondered why I was so determined to do this now. Why was this the right time? I’m still not sure. It did help with one thing. When my basement flooded Holy Thursday morning thanks to all the rain my corner of the world received recently, it didn’t do hardly any damage. Nothing was ruined because that area of my basement was already cleaned out! That was a blessing in and of itself. Was there some greater purpose? That I don’t know.

Yet, I can’t help but think that this cleaning project was a metaphor for my soul. In Lent, I got rid of some major things. I did a lot of soul cleaning and refocusing my priorities. I went to confession twice. I knelt down in prayer and begged for direction. I would like to say all the clutter is gone, that my soul is now a prime example of cleanliness. It’s not. Forty days later and much like my house, I’m still a mess. I’m a little better for the effort. Perhaps some of the things that were hidden in the deep recesses have been cleared out. Thirty-five years of life have led to a lot of build-up. There are all those things that I have just buried away, perhaps waiting for a better time to deal with them, or I simply wasn’t ready to let go. Some things I’m still holding onto. Just as with my physical dwelling, the process is far from complete.

So, here I am, 40 days later. Easter was meaningful this year, much more so than in some other years. Every year Lent brings its own unique experience. Maybe I was looking for too much, both with my house and my soul. After all, 40 days is only 40 days. Yet, I made some progress. I need to be thankful for that and know that this is something I can keep working on.

Her Darkest Hour

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

Her Darkest Hour

Mary sits, holding her dead son as she once held him as an infant. She is in utter pain, suffering the deepest hurt a mother can experience. Yet, even in the darkness, the light is there. God is there – with Mary and with us when all seems lost. This is not the end of the story.

To purchase this painting, visit Ebay listing for “Her Darkest Hour

The Stations of the Cross and Children

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

I can remember being a child and dreading Palm Sunday and Good Friday. The story of the Lord’s Passion made me sick, literally. I certainly did not want to exclaim “Crucify Him!” with the crowd. I did not want to have any part of having Jesus die on the cross. Yet, I knew it was necessary. In order to get to Easter, you had to get through the painful stuff first. Jesus on the cross is a central part of Christianity. Yes, the Resurrection matters more. Easter is the crucial event – the fact that Jesus conquered death and opened the doors of heaven for us. But, the cross comes first. Good Friday comes first.

I’ve taught my own children about the Stations of the Cross since they were about 3 or 4 years old. They have known that Jesus died for us, for them. Our Church has a huge crucifix hanging over the altar. We have crucifixes in our home. I always felt that they should know who that man is hanging on the cross, what the crucifixion meant. Without understanding that, they can’t truly understand what it means to be Christian.

This year, I am teaching Pre-K through 1st grade religious education. For the season of Lent, I found some coloring sheets of the Stations of the Cross. We are doing three each week. Over the course of Lent, the children will get the full story. It seemed an appropriate thing to do, a simple way to introduce them to the story of Christ dying for us. Several of the children already knew about the Stations and were excited about having the full set of pictures. Therefore, I was very surprised when a mother of a child in my class informed me she was pulling her child from my class because I was teaching about them. She said that she felt that they were too graphic for young children.

Of course, she has the right to pull her child from my class. A parent always has the right to decide about the education of her child. I told her I was sorry that she felt that way, but I did not apologize for teaching this crucial part of our faith. Nor did I change my lesson plan for this week’s class. I discussed the matter with my religious education coordinator. Thankfully, she backed me up and said that what I was doing entirely appropriate. As she stated, “Easter is not about the Easter bunny!” This is so very true.

The Stations of the Cross are not pretty or comforting. They are not meant to be. They tell a horrible story of suffering, of a cruel, undeserved death. If that was all there was to the story, it certainly wouldn’t be appropriate to share with young children. But it is not the end of the story. Easter is coming! Jesus suffered, died and rose for all of us. That includes young children. They deserve to know the truth.

A Lenten Purge

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

This Lent, my family is embarking on a different type of sacrifice. I had heard of the 40 bags in 40 days challenge last year, but quickly dismissed it. In fact, I read about it again this year on Fat Tuesday and dismissed it again. Anyway who knows me or has visited my house knows that housekeeping is not my strong point. Neither is neatness. I had the desk in elementary school that was overflowing with papers. My locker in high school was a health hazard. I once had to explain to a boss that even though my desk looked like a tornado hit it, I knew where everything was and did, in fact, have every task under control. Anyone else see a theme here? My house is much the same. It’s not that I don’t like neat places. In fact, when I go to clean, neat houses, I feel a small pang of jealousy. Truly, though, I don’t know how to live that way. I need visual reminders of what I need to do. If it is out of my sight, it is truly out of my mind. My husband and two children are much the same. We all have the messy gene. Therefore, we coexist rather peacefully. However, the simple truth is that we have too much stuff and some of it needs to go.

The point of 40 bags in 40 days is to get rid of 40 bags of stuff out of your house during Lent. Of course, donated items count as well. As I was looking around my house on Ash Wednesday, I had the sudden feeling that this was something I desperately needed to do. I grabbed a couple of trash bags and explained the concept to my children. I expected a great deal of resistance, especially from my older son who likes to keep everything that crosses his path. Amazingly, they got into the project. That first day, we cleared two bags of items out of their playroom. I was so excited! The project was off to a great start. The next day, I started tackling the kitchen, and my husband started on our bedroom closet (despite the fact that he hates disposing of items as well).

The beauty of doing one bag a day is that it is doable. One of the things that paralyzes me when facing the clutter is that there is so much of it. I can’t do it all at one time, not even one room. Yet, I can do one bag. When I have filled up one bag, I feel like I have accomplished my goal for the day. I cross it off on my things to do list and up the total of bags completed.

Truly, I don’t know if we will be able to fill 40 bags or not. As of this writing, we are at seven. Still, I am excited and happy with the progress so far. Admittedly, most of the items cleaned out so far have been in cabinets and closets. Looking around my house, no one would see much of a difference. Still, I know that it is getting done. I’m giving away as much as I can so that I am helping others as well as cleaning my home.

Lent calls us to strip away all that is keeping us from God. Too much stuff can definitely be part of the problem. Lent is a good time to physically remove some of the things that we don’t need anymore. I’m embracing this Lenten project with enthusiasm and wonder where removing 40 bags of excess will leave me. Like so many other things in my life, it is a work in progress.

Book Review: The Spirituality of Fasting

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

The Spirituality of Fasting: Rediscovering a Christian Practice
by Charles M. Murphy
Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2010

Back in 1966, Pope Paul VI issued the apostolic constitution on fast and abstinence, Poenitemini. The intent was “to rescue fasting from the legalism and minimalism into which it had fallen.” The goal was not to remove fasting and penance and sacrifice from Catholic life, but rather to make it a personal choice rather than a command issued from above. Unfortunately, many Catholics took this to mean that these practices simply weren’t necessary anymore. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are still called today to fast. Msgr. Charles M. Murphy has written “The Spirituality of Fasting” in order to renew “the practice of fast and abstinence based upon a deeper understanding of its role in our religious life.”

In this relatively brief book (105 pages), Murphy explores the many reasons why fasting is important: it integrates prayer as being both of body and spirit, it is part of a long-standing tradition of Jewish and Christian practice, it helps to heal our relationship with God, and it helps us stand in solidarity with the poor and hungry. Overall his discussion of these points is extremely well-done. Based firmly in the witness of the Bible and pillars of the Christian faith, his argument that fasting is important and necessary is a strong one.

This being said, I offer one minor criticism. Murphy offers the example of Simone Weil in his chapter on standing in solidarity with others. He writes: “Simone Weil died on September 3, 1943, in exile from France in England, at the age of thirty-four, having starved herself to death. Suffering from tuberculosis, she refused in solidarity with her countrymen in Nazi-occupied France, to eat more than they were able to eat. She stands as a witness to social justice and to the significance and hazards of religious fasting.” That word “hazards” indicates that Murphy did realize that Weil went too far. However, in the following paragraphs he really does hold her up as a role model. I respectfully disagree. Fasting to the detriment of one’s body is not in keeping with the respect God wants us to have for our bodies.

Thankfully, in the chapter which offers practical ways to incorporate fasting into one’s life, he advocates a much more healthy take on fasting. Following in the footsteps of St. Francis de Sales, he writes: “Your work and state in life are primary; fasting should not impede your ability to perform your duties , or endanger your health.” I like that, unlike some other books on fasting that I have read, he acknowledges the worth of a partial fast – of simply giving up one meal, or cutting back on what one eats. He also agrees there is much to be said for other types of fasting and sacrifice, such as fast from media, or talking unnecessarily.

Murphy also makes the important fact that fasting is not a negative activity – it is a life-giving one. In truth, it enables us to feast. Just as one cannot appreciate light without the darkness, one can not truly appreciate feasting until one has experienced some lack. “We fast not just for fasting’s sake, but to be able to feast, to live in the present with great pleasure and a joy that lasts.”

“The Spirituality of Fasting” does much to encourage readers to make the practice of fasting part of their lives. It is good reading for Lent or for any time of the year!