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Pope Francis’ Prayer Intentions for April 2015

Prayer_Intentions_April_2015

Join us in prayer for the intentions entrusted to us by Pope Francis. For April 2015, we join the Holy Father in praying for:

  • Creation: That people may learn to respect creation and care for it as a gift of God.
  •  Persecuted Christians: That persecuted Christians may feel the consoling presence of the Risen Lord and the solidarity of all the Church.

Daily Offering Prayer
God, our Father, I offer You my day. I offer You my prayers, thoughts, words, actions, joys, and sufferings in union with the Heart of Jesus, who continues to offer Himself in the Eucharist for the salvation of the world. May the Holy Spirit, Who guided Jesus, be my guide and my strength today so that I may witness to your love. With Mary, the mother of our Lord and the Church, I pray for all Apostles of Prayer and for the prayer intentions proposed by the Holy Father this month. Amen.

Traditional Daily Offering of the Apostleship of Prayer
O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer You my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world. I offer them for all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart: the salvation of souls, reparation for sin, and the reunion of all Christians. I offer them for the intentions of our bishops and of all Apostles of Prayer, and in particular for those recommended by our Holy Father this month. The Apostles of Prayer offer themselves to God each day for the good of the world, the Church, one another, and the Holy Father’s intentions.

Thank you for praying with us!

In a tradition that is centuries old, the Apostleship of Prayer publishes the Pope’s monthly prayer intentions. To become a member of the Apostleship of Prayer, you need only to offer yourself to God for his purposes each day. When you give God all the “prayers, works, joys and sufferings” of your day, you turn your entire day into a prayer for others. You are joining your will to God’s will. If you feel called to this simple, profound way of life, find out more at Apostleship of Prayer.

 (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Angels: Your Forgotten Friends

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weekly_news_610x53_rightGuardian_Angel

Noel-BlogWelcome to S+L’s Weekly News Round-Up. As the Director of Marketing and Communications here at S+L, many interesting Catholic news stories and articles come across my desk on a daily basis. Some of them we’ll cover on our different television programs and others I’d like to share with you on this blog.

This blog column is where I’ll point out some of the more interesting news pieces that I’ve come across over the past week! Enjoy!

Stations_of_the_crossIt’s the 4th week of Lent and I sure hope you guys are hanging in there. In addition to a really good confession, one thing that really should be on your to-do list this Lent is to take a moment to pray and reflect on the Stations of the Cross, at least once. But, ‘why?’ you are probably asking youself. Well, Pope Francis gives you 8 solid reasons here.

Here are also some great reflections on The Way of the Cross:

Here’s an interesting article that doesn’t surprise me one bit. Apparently, despite some of the opposition the Pope is getting from the extreme right or left Catholics, the Pope’s popularity continues to grow. In fact, 9-in-10 Catholics in the U.S. view Pope Francis favourably, on par with ratings of St. John Paul II. Read about it here! With this in mind, here is an interesting article by John Allen that describes what’s really miraculous about Pope Francis.

Louis_Zelie_MartinSpeaking of Popes and Saints, I’m sure you’ve heard by now that Pope Francis plans to canonize St. Therese of Lisieux’s parents’ Blesseds Louis and Marie Zelie Guerin Martin. The couple was beatified in 2008 and are believed to be the first parents of a saint to be beatified, highlighting the important role parents play in their children’s human and spiritual upbringing. It’s all here on CNS.

Angels. Let’s talk about these important, yet all to often, under-rated protectors we all have. Have a look at this interesting article on EpicPew that points out 10 facts about them that’ll blow your mind! Speaking of which, the Venerable Fulton Sheen has some interesting thoughts on the subject:

One thing you may not know about me is that I am a bit of an architectural enthusiant. So when I came across these three articles, I found them of great interest. First, check out this video of 11 beautiful Christian sites taken with drones! Second, you should see these 5 Hidden Underwater Christian Statues of the Deep. Lastly, take a moment to see this really cool full 60 minutes documentary entitled “BUILDING THE GREATEST CATHEDRALS”

Finally, if you are like many Catholics and prayer may seem like a daunting task, you should think about what kind of prayer best suits your personality type! Here is a neat Quiz that will help you find out what type of prayer is best for you.

Take the test here.

That’s it for this week folks. I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on these stories. If you have any interesting stories yourself, please feel free to send them to me!

I hope you enjoy these little stories! I certainly have. Till next week!

– Noel

Celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph

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The Catholic Church celebrates St. Josephs’ feast day on March 19. St. Joseph is the patron saint of husbands, fathers, families, homes and workers. Joseph is also believed to protect pregnant women, travelers, immigrants and people buying or selling homes.

In 1870, St. Joseph was declared patron of the universal Church and he is also one of the principal patrons of Canada. Please join Salt + Light in a month long novena prayer to St. Joseph. We invite you to pray for our ministry and for your own special intentions. Please find the prayer below:

Glorious St. Joseph
Appointed by the Eternal Father
As the guardian and protector of the life of Jesus Christ,
the comfort and support of His Holy Mother,
and the instrument in His great design
for the Redemption of mankind,
then who had the happiness of living with Jesus and Mary
and of dying in Their arms,
be moved with the confidence which we place in you
and procure for us from The Almighty,
the particular favours which we humbly ask through your intercession.

(Here ask for favours you wish to obtain)

Pray for us, then, O Great Saint Joseph
And by your love for Jesus and Mary,
And by Their love for you,
Obtain for us the supreme happiness of living and dying in the love of Jesus and Mary, Amen.

St. Joseph, pray for us.

If you would like to share your special intentions with us, please let us know.

Deacon-structing Lent: part 3

Deaconstructing_Lent

In part 1 we looked at fasting and abstinence and in part 2 we looked at the meaning of suffering. Today, let me share with you something I like to do as part of my prayer (and we all know that Lent is a time to re-focus our prayer life.)

I love Scripture. I take to heart the words of St. Jerome, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” I truly believe that we must read the Bible daily. We must read it, study it and pray with it. That is definitely one way to get closer to Christ. But it’s also a good way to measure how you’re doing in your own life. When I was doing my pastoral placement while studying for the Permanent Diaconate, we were required to do “scriptural reflections” on specific pastoral experiences we’d had. So if I had met a patient who was in crisis in the hospital, I had to reflect on that experience by looking at it through a scriptural lens. I loved doing this and it was extremely helpful. Basically it’s looking at the life of Jesus (or other Bible characters) and seeing what it tells me about my life.  A lot of people will tell us that the Gospels are not factual. That Jesus didn’t really multiply the loaves and the fishes or that it wasn’t really water turned into wine, or that Lazarus wasn’t really dead. They’ll say that “resurrect” meant something else or that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross or didn’t really “resurrect.” See, (and I may get some responses from you for saying this) I don’t know if it really matters whether Jesus literally fed 5000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fishes or if he really walked on water; what matters is how these stories affect my life today. What really matters is the TRUTH behind all these stories.  The Bible may not always be FACT – but it is always TRUTH.

Let me explain to you the difference between “Fact” and “Truth.”

Let’s say you ask my five-year-old son how tall I am. My son says that I am 20 feet tall. Clearly that statement is not factual. I am not 20 ft. tall. But the truth behind that statement is that I am much, much taller than he is. He is short and I am a lot taller than him. So, in a way, his statement is true just not fact. Understand?

So the Bible is full of stories to show us the Truth.  That’s why we have to read the Bible as THEOLOGY and not so much as HISTORY. When we look at the Gospel stories and during Lent when we look at all the Passion Narratives, in trying to understand all the suffering, we must look for the Truth that is found in them.

The first Truth that I see is (as I said in part 2) that, although we may not be able to understand suffering, we believe in a God who suffers with us. He reigns from the Cross.

Jesus had to die because in dying He destroyed death. He destroyed Sin. His death frees us. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (A cliché from Jn 12:24?) What I take from this passage is that unless I die I will not produce fruit.  It means I have to die to myself. It means I have to not be so selfish and self-centred. If I stop being so self-consumed and focus a little bit more on others, chances are I will produce some good fruit. Lent is a good time to practice dying to ourselves.

Jesus dying on the cross in a way represents how we each have to die:  We have to die to ourselves. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mt.16:24). Deny yourself. That means stop being so self-centred.

In Luke, Jesus says: “And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Lk 14:27) Does “our cross” mean, “our suffering”?  Does it mean that if I am not willing to suffer, then I can’t be a follower of Jesus?  Is He preaching a religion that requires suffering? But as I said last week this doesn’t mean that I have to create my own suffering. Our cross is not suffering for the sake of suffering.

What does Jesus say about suffering?  He healed the sick, he cured the lame and the blind; he resurrected Lazarus. He fed the hungry. So Jesus fought against suffering at every turn. In fact, when Lazarus died, people chastised Jesus for not going to Lazarus when he was sick and curing him. (Jn: 11:4) When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” So Lazarus died so that God may be glorified through it.

On the fifth Sunday in Lent, this year (Cycle B) we will hear the reading from John 12:20-33 about the kernel of wheat dying, that I mentioned above. It’s worth reading the whole passage. Jesus says:

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

Amen, amen, I say to you,

unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,

it remains just a grain of wheat;

but if it dies, it produces much fruit.

Whoever loves his life loses it,

and whoever hates his life in this world

will preserve it for eternal life.

Whoever serves me must follow me,

and where I am, there also will my servant be.

The Father will honor whoever serves me.”

He says it in response to some Greeks who wanted to see him. He’s speaking about what we have to do if we want to follow him.

But in a less-known passage, which follows, he says,

“I am troubled now. Yet what should I say?

‘Father, save me from this hour’?

But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.

Father, glorify your name.”
Then a voice came from heaven,

“I have glorified it and will glorify it again.”

The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder;

but others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”

Jesus answered and said,

“This voice did not come for my sake but for yours.

Now is the time of judgment on this world;

now the ruler of this world will be driven out.

And when I am lifted up from the earth,

I will draw everyone to myself.”

He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.

Jesus is saying that some suffering glorifies God. Which kind of suffering? Self-centred suffering won’t glorify God, that’s for sure. He also says that we must accept the suffering that comes with following Him.

In the Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson there’s a very moving scene: Jesus is carrying the cross on the way to his crucifixion. He has been tortured and can barely stand or walk. His face is bruised and bleeding and his eye is swollen shut. He has fallen a lot more than three times. Mary, his mother is trying to get to him through the crowds. She finally breaks through as Jesus falls one more time. He looks up at her and says: “See Mother, I make all things new.”

Jesus came to make all things new.  He came to renew.  He talked about a new commandment: Love one another. A new Covenant: His blood is the blood of the new Covenant. In Mark He says: “And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, He pours new wine into new wineskins.” (Mark 2:22)  And how does He do this? By suffering and dying on the Cross. Lent is a time when we focus on dying to ourselves – even if it means a little suffering – so that we can glorify God. That, in turn, will make us new. That is why Lent is also a time for transfiguration. The season of Lent may begin with the story of Jesus going into the desert, but the second Sunday in Lent always has the story of the Transfiguration.

When Pope Francis was interviewed for America Magazine and was asked, “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” he paused. He thought for a bit and then he said, “I am sinner. I am a sinner, whom the Lord has looked upon.”

That’s who we are: sinners, but that is just half of the story: We are sinners, whom the Lord has looked upon. Lent is not Lent if it doesn’t lead to Easter. Lent is a time when we focus a bit more on our sinfulness because the Lord has looked upon us; because Easter is just around the corner.

Come back next week and we’ll look at the two-fold character of Lent.

CNS photo/Vincent West, Reuters

50 Years Ago Today: Mass in the Vernacular

Paul VI new mass

On Saturday March 7, Pope Francis will visit the church of “Ognissanti’ (All Saints) in Rome to commemorate fifty years to the day that Blessed Paul VI celebrated the Eucharist for the first time in the vernacular rather than in the customary Latin language. It was the first time a new way of celebrating mass was inaugurated after Vatican II’s Decree on the Liturgy SACROSANCTUM CONCILIUM was promulgated on December 4, 1963. This important document, the first of Vatican II, was approved at the end of the second year of the Council.

When Paul VI celebrated mass 50 years ago today, he said that it was a great liturgical reform that would bring about an authentic spiritual renewal in the Church. This weekend is a good opportunity to recall some important points about the great changes that have taken place in the liturgy over the past half a century. The practices associated with the “New Mass” after the Council had their beginnings decades earlier. The reform of the liturgy did not simply begin with Vatican II. The practices introduced in 1964 had been suggested much earlier. Since the middle of the 19th century there had been an interest in various aspects of the liturgy, its history, ceremonies and music. Fr. Lambert Beauduin, a Belgian responsible for the liturgical movement in France held that the liturgy creates Christian community; it is the source and center of all Christian life – an idea that later made its way into the Second Vatican Council’s constitution on the liturgy. The theological basis of the entire liturgical movement was the body of Christ. This idea “body of Christ” gained momentum and finally received papal approval in Pope Pius XII’s encyclical, Mystici Corporis Christi.

Maria Laach Abbey GermanyBenedictines were real pioneers and leaders in the international Liturgical Movement. Benedictine liturgical scholars claim that the origin of the pastoral liturgical reform was in 1924, when the first Missa recitata, or dialogue Mass, was celebrated in a crypt of Maria Laach Abbey in Germany. This German abbey played a significant role in the 20th century, particularly in the field of liturgy. The Benedictine monks of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, beginning with liturgical pioneer Fr. Virgil Michel were the founders of the Liturgical Movement in English-speaking countries. St. John’s Abbey was a real center of liturgical activity. Already in 1926, the Benedictines in Minnesota were publishing an influential liturgical journal, Orate Fratres (later renamed Worship).

Collegeville Abbey MinnesotaThe Collegeville abbey was instrumental in founding in 1940 the Benedictine Liturgical Conference that would host national meetings called Liturgical Weeks. They were attended by thousands of priests, religious and laity interested in liturgical reform. While at first the main concern of the Liturgical Movement was that people be educated about the liturgy so they could better understand and participate in it, at a later stage, liturgists decided that the people’s participation would be possible only if changes were made in the rites, and began to advocate such changes.

The First Instruction on the Proper Implementation of the Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy, Inter oecumenici, was issued by the Sacred Congregation for Rites on September 26, 1964, to take effect by March 7, 1965, the first Sunday of Lent. This document specified which parts of the Mass could be in the vernacular as permitted by SC #54. The normal Sunday experience for the vast majority of Catholics continued to be the new Mass celebrated in the vernacular. The new Mass could also be celebrated in Latin, something that I do often especially in international assemblies. The use of Latin is a beautiful way to express unity rather than division.

The Extraordinary Form

We must not forget that the Second Vatican Council never asked for the creation of a new rite for the liturgy, but for greater use of the vernacular language and greater participation of the faithful. On July 7, 2007 Pope Benedict XVI released his apostolic letter “Summorum Pontificum” on the use of the Roman liturgy prior to the reform of 1970. The decree was issued “motu proprio,” a Latin term meaning on the Pope’s personal initiative in the matter. In the letter Benedict eased restrictions on the use of the 1962 Roman Missal, which was standard before the new Order of the Mass was introduced in 1970. The so-called “Tridentine” Mass an extraordinary form of the Roman Rite is not considered to be a distinct rite, but rather a different form of the same right.

Addressing fears of opponents of his apostolic letter, Benedict pointed out that the norms do not detract from the authority of Vatican II, nor do they question the liturgical reform that the council called for. In an explanatory letter that accompanied the document addressed to the bishops of the world, Benedict wrote that his decision was motivated by a desire to bring about “an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church.” In Pope Benedict’s decision about the greater use of the Tridentine Mass, there are no winners or losers. Whoever wants to appeal to the Motu proprio to ignite tensions, instead of fostering the spirit of reconciliation, will radically betray it.

The liturgy accompanies the Church on her journey through history. We have two forms of the mass: one ordinary and the other extraordinary – of a single rite of celebration of the Mass. The mystery of the death and resurrection of the Lord is so great that it cannot be identified or limited in a definitive and exclusive way with one form or the other of the rite that is celebrated. Both Popes Benedict and Francis strongly desire to support reconciliation among Catholics and to reconcile the church with its rich liturgical past. It is through the liturgy that we encounter the Lord Jesus, his death and resurrection. He is the source and summit of our life. He is our reconciliation and our lasting peace.

Deacon-structing Lent: part 2

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Now that in part 1 we’ve taken care of questions regarding fasting and abstinence, let’s focus on the meaning of Lent.

We all know that Lent is the 40 days leading us to Easter. But what really is Lent?  Why are penance and suffering associated with Lent? What is the value of suffering? Let me tell you the story of my friend Eileen.*

Eileen has a great husband and a beautiful daughter. They have a nice little house in a good part of town. Her husband Paul* has a good job. They have a car. Her daughter Melanie* goes to a good school.  They are a good Catholic family. They go to Church and they’re involved in their Parish. Eileen has Multiple Sclerosis, but she’s doing very well. It is not advanced. Life is good and full of many blessings.

One day, when Melanie is about 13, Eileen finds out that Paul has been cheating on her. In a second their life has changed. Eileen can’t live with this betrayal. She leaves Paul.  Instantly, Melanie’s life has changed completely: from living in a nice house, with a car, in a nice neighbourhood – to living in a two-bedroom apartment with her now, single Mom, in a not-so-nice area of town and having to take public transit. Eileen’s MS starts to advance. Now, Melanie has to spend more time at home, helping her Mom. She is now 15, a time when she would rather be spending more time with her friends. But she is coping. Life for Eileen is getting harder and harder: divorce and disease, but still, life continues; they make the most of it; they’re still involved in their parish. There is still contact with Paul, who spends time with Melanie and visits occasionally. Then one day, when Melanie is 17, just a few days after Christmas, she is driving home after going out to a friend’s birthday. No one has been drinking and there is no speeding. The weather is not bad. Melanie changed cars to be with a friend who was going to be driving alone. The car hits a patch of ice, spins out into the opposite lane into an incoming vehicle – that is not speeding, just going the legal 60km/h – but hits straight onto the passenger side where Melanie is sitting, effectively crushing her. She is unconscious and shortly after she reaches the hospital, dies. 17 years old.  Divorce, disease and now death. I heard the news of Melanie’s death shortly after I heard about the Tsunami in South Asia. Divorce, disease, death and disaster….

And so I spent my Christmas season trying to make sense of this; trying to see why suffering exists; why is it such a part of our lives?

We are told that suffering glorifies us. Suffering sanctifies us. That means that suffering makes us Saints. This seems completely ridiculous to me. However if you look at the Middle Ages – a time in history that is not well-known for technical or scientific advances and not well-known for great Church leadership – this time produced many Saints; Saints that took suffering seriously. There’s Saint Rose of Lima (1586 –1617) who wore a cilice, a belt with spikes on it, wore a hair shirt and rubbed pepper on her face so she wouldn’t be attractive. There are so many others. I guess I don’t need to tell you about all the people who willingly gave up everything to be poor; who made strange choices like choosing to walk barefoot, even in winter! Look at St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226). Did all these people become Saints because of their suffering? I don’t think so. Certain suffering may sanctify us, but that doesn’t mean we have to go looking for suffering!

If I were to ask you why there’s suffering in the world, maybe you’d tell me that it’s because suffering makes us better people; because we learn from our suffering; it makes us stronger; it helps us understand those who are less fortunate and it gives us an opportunity to be compassionate to others and to realise that we need God. I guess that’s why we have so many clichés about darkness preceding light.

A cliché is an expression or phrase that expresses a stereotype. Like: “It has to be dark for you to see the stars.” Or “in darkness is when the stars shine brightest.” Or, “It has to be raining for you to see the rainbow” or, “you have to climb through the thorns to get to the rose.” These are clichés. But they are clichés because they are true. Here’s another one: “Winter has to come before the Spring.” They all mean that we need to go through suffering in order to experience the good stuff. Suffering makes us better people. That’s the way it is. There is something about this created world (and fallen world) that simply is that way. But why?  Why does it have to be that way?  God is God; God could have had anything make us better people. Anything could sanctify us. Why would salvation depend on suffering? Why can’t it be something else? Why can’t salvation depend on partying? I would say that those clichés are true also in that they point to something about the essence of God.

God became a human being and lived on earth as a human, with all the human things: born in a stable, got lost in Jerusalem, had to go to school and make friends; had to work hard – life in those days wasn’t easy.  Then he was arrested, tortured in the most horrible way and killed in the most horrible way.  That’s the God we believe in: A God who is arrested, tortured and killed.  A God who reigns by hanging on a Cross. It makes no sense. That’s why St. Paul says it’s a folly (1 Cor 1:18-25). I don’t get it but I don’t think we have to understand it. That’s why St. Paul also calls it a stumbling block (1 Cor 1:23).  But God doesn’t ask me to understand. That’s the story of Job. Job goes through incredible suffering and God never tells him why. Jesus goes through incredible suffering and God is absent (Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34). [I wrote a reflection on the Cross a few years ago and explored many of these themes.]

But we know that suffering can be redemptive. There are people who suffer for no reason; that suffering has no meaning. But there are people who suffer out of love. There are people who offer their suffering because of love. That suffering becomes redemptive. That’s the suffering of Jesus on the Cross. That’s why His suffering is redemptive. That’s the suffering that saves.

I may not understand why we have to suffer**, but I know that God is a God who suffers with us. That acceptance is also redemptive. Lent is a great opportunity to remind us of this love. Our small acts of penance are a reminder of this love. Lent encourages us to offer up our suffering out of love.

Come back next week and let’s see what Scriptures have to say about all this.


*Not their real names.
**For a real good in-depth look at suffering, you may want to watch In Your Faith, Season 1; Episode 2, (If God is a God of Love) Why do Bad Things Happen?
You may also be interested in Fr. Rosica’s Lenten and Easter Reflections, available now on DVD.

Pope Francis’ Prayer Intentions for March 2015

 

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Join us in prayer for the intentions entrusted to us by Pope Francis. For March 2015, we join the Holy Father in praying for:

  • Scientists. That those involved in scientific research may serve the well-being of the whole human person.
  • Contribution of Women. That the unique contribution of women to the life of the Church may be recognized always.

Daily Offering Prayer
God, our Father, I offer You my day. I offer You my prayers, thoughts, words, actions, joys, and sufferings in union with the Heart of Jesus, who continues to offer Himself in the Eucharist for the salvation of the world. May the Holy Spirit, Who guided Jesus, be my guide and my strength today so that I may witness to your love. With Mary, the mother of our Lord and the Church, I pray for all Apostles of Prayer and for the prayer intentions proposed by the Holy Father this month. Amen.

Traditional Daily Offering of the Apostleship of Prayer
O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer You my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world. I offer them for all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart: the salvation of souls, reparation for sin, and the reunion of all Christians. I offer them for the intentions of our bishops and of all Apostles of Prayer, and in particular for those recommended by our Holy Father this month. The Apostles of Prayer offer themselves to God each day for the good of the world, the Church, one another, and the Holy Father’s intentions.

Thank you for praying with us!

In a tradition that is centuries old, the Apostleship of Prayer publishes the Pope’s monthly prayer intentions. To become a member of the Apostleship of Prayer, you need only to offer yourself to God for his purposes each day. When you give God all the “prayers, works, joys and sufferings” of your day, you turn your entire day into a prayer for others. You are joining your will to God’s will. If you feel called to this simple, profound way of life, find out more at Apostleship of Prayer.

Deacon-structing Lent: part 1

Deconstructing_Lent_1

I wanted to start out not just “deaconstructing” Lent but more so with a reflection on Lent, in order to help us understand the meaning of Lent. But in the last week I’ve had so many questions about fasting and abstinence and about what we can do and can’t do in Lent that I would like to address some of these issues first.

Lent seems to be the one time of the year when Catholics get legalistic about our faith. “Can I eat meat today?” is a question I get all the time. A friend who just moved to Canada asked me if in Canada it was required to not eat meat on Fridays. Another person asked me if pork was considered red meat. Add to that the confusion between the difference between fasting and abstinence (“isn’t fasting a kind of abstinence?” is another question I get asked).

To my knowledge, the Catechism of the Catholic Church does not say anything about fasting or abstinence as it pertains to the Lenten season except in the context of “the Precepts of the Church” (what the Baltimore Catechism called “the Commandments of the Church.”)

“The precepts of the Church are set in the context of a moral life bound to and nourished by liturgical life. The obligatory character of these positive laws decreed by the pastoral authorities is meant to guarantee to the faithful the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbour.” (CCC#2041 emphasis my own)

The fourth precept has to do with fasting and abstinence. The Catechism says that this precept, “ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts and help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart.” (CCC#2043)

The “rule” regarding fasting and abstinence is in Canon Law (again, all emphasis is my own):

Canon 1249 – The divine law binds all the Christian faithful to do penance each in his or her own way. In order for all to be united among themselves by some common observance of penance, however, penitential days are prescribed on which the Christian faithful devote themselves in a special way to prayer, perform works of piety and charity, and deny themselves by fulfilling their own obligations more faithfully and especially by observing fast and abstinence, according to the norm of the following canons.

Can.  1250 – The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.

Can.  1251  – Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesdayand Good Friday.

Can.  1252 – The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.

Can.  1253 – The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast.

Canon Law is very clear that each Episcopal Conference has the final word on the practice that is to be observed in a particular country. In Canada, the obligation is that we should fast and abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and that every Friday in Lent is a day of fasting. On top of that, Fridays are days of abstinence from meat, but Catholics may substitute special acts of charity of piety on this day. (From the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops)

It’s clear to me, first, that from these paragraphs, there is no distinction or definition of what “abstinence” and “fasting are.” (I’ll get back to this later)

A few other things that I take from these paragraphs from the Catechism and the Code of Canon Law (and let me make clear that I am not a Canonist, I am a Deacon and so I tend to take the Pastoral bend on all these issues):

  1. The Catechism calls these Precepts “positive laws.” In my book we shouldn’t look at them as “laws”; that’s why they are “positive laws.” It may not be completely appropriate to call them suggestions or guidelines, but the bottom line is that we shouldn’t follow them because they are laws; we follow them because of love. You can’t legislate love. The point of these precepts is “to grow in love of God and neighbour.”
  2. Because of love, we are bound to do penance each in our own way. That is key. As with the Liturgy, the Church has us do certain things at the same time or in the same way “in order for all to be united (…) by some common observance…” This is why in every Church we have the same readings at Mass; why we all stand and sit and kneel at the same times during Mass; why there are Liturgical Seasons; and why the Church suggests that every Friday of the year is to be considered a day of penance.
  3. Abstaining from meat (not just red meat) is a suggestion. We can abstain from any other food, if appropriate. If you are a vegetarian or live somewhere where all you eat is fish; giving up meat doesn’t make sense.
  4. Children can learn the meaning of penance by participating in the discipline of fasting and abstinence; the tradition of giving up something for Lent comes out of the need to teach children the importance of penance.

And now to the difference between fasting and abstinence: Canon 1251 defines abstinence as “abstinence from meat or some other food.” Abstaining means not eating that particular food. I have not however, found a definition of “fasting”anywhere in the Catechism or in the Code of Canon Law (maybe someone can help me out).  The idea that the Church defines fasting as “one meal a day, and two smaller meals which if added together would not exceed the main meal in quantity” is from the Third Baltimore Catechism.

Baltimore Catechism #3
Q. 1337 What do you mean by fast-days?
A. By fast-days I mean days on which we are allowed but one full meal.

Q. 1338. Is it permitted on fast days to take any food besides the one full meal?
A. It is permitted on fast days, besides the one full meal, to take two other meatless meals, to maintain strength, according to each one’s needs. But together these two meatless meals should not equal another full meal.)

[Maybe someone who knows more can clarify if this definition of fasting comes from anywhere else in Church teaching.]

Growing up I was taught that fasting is not eating at all. Some people eat only bread and water on the days they fast. If the least you can do is one full meal and two smaller meals, then that’s the best you can do – I would suggest that if you are truly going to fast, then don’t eat anything (water is OK). Based on who you are, what your circumstances are, I suppose you can choose the appropriate balance between these two. (For a really good reflection on fasting, read or watch Fr. Rosica’s Reflection for Ash Wednesday.)

But don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that we don’t have to fast or abstain. What I am saying is that these are disciplines to help us in our spiritual journey. We don’t observe them because they are laws. Fasting and Abstinence are not ends in themselves.

If you tend to have a legalistic approach to giving up meat on Fridays of Lent (or to any aspect of our Faith), I think you’re missing the point. Lent is a time when we are supposed to get rid of the stuff that gets in the way between us and God. Fasting, prayer and alms-giving are disciplines that help us focus on what’s essential. Jesus went into the desert because in the desert is where we have the bare minimum; we get rid of the stuff we don’t need, the extras, so we can focus on the essentials (which may mean not just giving stuff up, but also doing things you don’t normally do); so we can focus on our relationship with God.

Isaiah tells us:

Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? This, rather is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.” (Is 58:6-8)

It’s not about eating meat or not eating meat. You should give stuff up; and it should be a sacrifice; it should hurt a little – if you can’t come up with anything better or that is specific to where you are in your spiritual life, then the Church suggests giving up meat on Fridays (and so we can be united in our penance). But maybe you need to come up with something else that will help you specifically, get closer to God.

Besides, we should be focusing on our relationship with God all the time – this is why Canon 1250 says that every Friday of the year is a penitential day. I would add that prayer, fasting and alms-giving is a year-round discipline. Remember Psalm 51: “You do not delight in sacrifice; The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart.”

If you’d like to explore these ideas further, take a look at a Weekly Edition of Perspectives panel we had on Fasting and Abstinence and come back next week so we can begin looking at what Lent really is.


CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review

Pope Francis’ Prayer Intentions for February 2015

FrancisPrayerFeb

Join us in prayer for the intentions entrusted to us by Pope Francis. For February 2015, we join the Holy Father in praying for:

  • Prisoners. That prisoners, especially the young, may be able to rebuild lives of dignity.
  • Marriages. That married people who are separated may find welcome and support in the Christian community.

Daily Offering Prayer
God, our Father, I offer You my day. I offer You my prayers, thoughts, words, actions, joys, and sufferings in union with the Heart of Jesus, who continues to offer Himself in the Eucharist for the salvation of the world. May the Holy Spirit, Who guided Jesus, be my guide and my strength today so that I may witness to your love. With Mary, the mother of our Lord and the Church, I pray for all Apostles of Prayer and for the prayer intentions proposed by the Holy Father this month. Amen.

Traditional Daily Offering of the Apostleship of Prayer
O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer You my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world. I offer them for all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart: the salvation of souls, reparation for sin, and the reunion of all Christians. I offer them for the intentions of our bishops and of all Apostles of Prayer, and in particular for those recommended by our Holy Father this month. The Apostles of Prayer offer themselves to God each day for the good of the world, the Church, one another, and the Holy Father’s intentions.

Thank you for praying with us!

In a tradition that is centuries old, the Apostleship of Prayer publishes the Pope’s monthly prayer intentions. To become a member of the Apostleship of Prayer, you need only to offer yourself to God for his purposes each day. When you give God all the “prayers, works, joys and sufferings” of your day, you turn your entire day into a prayer for others. You are joining your will to God’s will. If you feel called to this simple, profound way of life, find out more at Apostleship of Prayer.

The Duty and Obligation of being Pro-Life

ProLife

What does it mean to be pro-life?

To be actively pro-life is to contribute to the renewal of society through the promotion of the common good. It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop. There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted. Remember the prophetic words of Pope Paul VI:

Every crime against life is an attack on peace, especially if it strikes at the moral conduct of people…But where human rights are truly professed and publicly recognized and defended, peace becomes the joyful and operative climate of life in society.

Abortion is without a doubt the most serious wound inflicted not only on individuals and their families who should provide the sanctuary for life, but inflicted as well on society and its culture, by the very people who ought to be society’s promoters and defenders. We must never lose sight of the atrocities against the unborn, the untold and too-seldom spoken of pain and lingering anguish experienced by those who have been involved in abortions.

I know about the tragedy of abortion and I know about the good work of many people involved in the pro-life Movement who work hard to prevent this tragedy. However a singular focus on abortion as the arbiter of what it means to be “pro-life” has severely narrowed our national discourse about moral values in the public square. People claiming to be fervently Catholic, always right, and blinded by their own zeal and goodness, have ended up defeating the very cause for which we must all defend with every ounce of energy in our flesh and bones. Their anger vitiates their efforts.

Could it be that some of us are turned off or even repelled by current definitions or behaviors of some of those people claiming to be pro-life, yet manifesting a tunnel vision? The Roman Catholic Church offers a consistent teaching on the inviolability, the sacredness and the dignity of the human person: a 20/20 vision for which we must strive each day if we claim to be pro-life. Opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. We must strive to see the whole picture, not with tunnel vision.

What is also troubling are those who claim to be on the “left”, always championing human and civil rights, respecting and upholding the dignity and freedom of others. This of course has included the protection of individual rights, and the efforts of government to care for the weak, sick and disadvantaged. Why then are the extension to the unborn of the human right to life, and opposition to the culture of death, not central issues on the “left?” They must be, for they are clearly matters of justice and human rights.

A few years ago, Cardinal Séan O’Malley wrote to the people of Boston with these words:

If any cause is motivated by judgment, anger or vindictiveness, it will be doomed to marginalization and failure. Jesus’ words to us were that we must love one another as He loves us… Our ability to change people’s hearts and help them to grasp the dignity of each and every life, from the first moment of conception to the last moment of natural death, is directly related to our ability to increase love and unity in the church, for our proclamation of the Truth is hindered when we are divided and fighting with each other.

We cannot ignore the other great challenge faced by humanity today–the serious question of mercy killing, or euthanasia as it is sometimes called, no longer found in abstract cases and theories. It concerns ordinary people and is debated not only in Parliament but also around dinner tables and in classrooms. Aging populations, especially in the west, and resulting smaller workforces are now creating a market push towards euthanasia. As Pope John Paul II wrote: “a right to die will inevitably give way to the duty to die.” This issue strikes to the very core of who we are and what we believe. Even when not motivated by the refusal to be burdened with the life of someone who is suffering, euthanasia must be called a false and misguided mercy. True compassion leads to sharing another’s pain, not killing the person whose suffering we cannot bear.

FrancisBaby

Furthering the Common Good

Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the dignity of the human person such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself, whatever insults human dignity such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, disgraceful working conditions where people are treated as instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons… all of these things and more poison human society.

It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop. There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted.

In Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, (Truth in Charity), the Holy Father addresses clearly the dignity and respect for human life:

Openness to life is at the centre of true development… When a society moves toward the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man’s true good. If personal and social sensitivity toward the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away.

Engaging the Culture Around Us

Being pro-life does not give us the right and license to say and do whatever we wish, to malign, condemn and destroy other human beings who do not share our views. We must never forget the principles of civility, Gospel charity, ethics, and justice. Jesus came to engage the culture of his day, and we must engage the culture of our day. We must avoid the sight impairment and myopia that often afflict people of good will who are blinded by their own zeal and are unable to see the whole picture. Being pro-life is not an activity for a political party or a particular side of the spectrum. It is an obligation for everyone: left, right and centre! If we are pro-life, we must engage the culture around us, and not curse it. We must see others as Jesus does, and we must love them to life, even those who are opposed to us. Being pro-life in this day and age is truly prophetic, and it will bring about authentic development and enduring peace in our world.

We are all invited pray these words each day, especially during this week:

LupitaEternal Father, Source of Life, strengthen us with your Holy Spirit to receive the abundance of life you have promised.
Open our hearts to see and desire the beauty of your plan for life and love.
Make our love generous and self-giving so that we may be blessed with joy.
Grant us great trust in your mercy.
Forgive us for not receiving your gift of life and heal us from the effects of the culture of death.
Instill in us and all people reverence for every human life.
Inspire and protect our efforts on behalf of those most vulnerable especially the unborn, the sick and the elderly.
We ask this in the Name of Jesus, who by His Cross makes all things new. Amen.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.

Father Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO Salt + Light Catholic Media Foundation

(CNS photo/Bob Roller)
(CNS photo/Paul Haring)