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Surfer Dude Saint

Sufer_Saint

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!

4lentWe’re now into the second week of Lent and I’m wondering how everyone is doing with their resolutions. I’m sure many of you (not all) are probably a bit grumpy from the withdrawal caused by your ambitious resolutions: abstaining from sugar, coffee, junk food, tv or whatever you’ve decided to give up for Lent. Some of you are probably wondering why only Christians have to give something up.

Well, I’m not sure if you’ve seen this, but apparently it’s not only us Catholics giving up things for Lent! Did you see the #Muslims4Lent campaign where Muslims show Solidarity with Christians by giving things up for Lent? It seems like we Christians are being supported by our Muslim brothers and sisters! Read about it here.

Now here is a very interesting character coming up for sainthood. When you think of a surfer dude, you don’t often think of a saintly seminarian. Let me introduce you to Guido Schaffer, a seminarian from Brazil who died just weeks before his ordination to priesthood. Check out the story here.

We all know them: friends, families and co-workers who are Catholic by birth but non-practicing, yet mildly curious about their grandmother’s religion. These are the seeds of conversion. Ever thought about what books you can give them to pique their interest? Well, then check this article out: Top Ten Books to Give Fallen Away Catholics. In addition to those books, I’d also throw into that list: The Call To Sainthood.

Now if your particular friend, family member or co-worker who is Catholic by birth, but non-practicing and yet mildly curious about their grandmother’s religion, happens to be big into twitter, here is another article that you can forward to them entitled: Top 24 Catholics to Follow on Twitter plus 1 Protestant.

And to close off that religious conversion with your particular friend, family member or co-worker who is Catholic by birth but non-practicing yet mildly curious about their grandmother’s religion, you can always throw them this: the top 10 reasons why it’s great to be Catholic. :)

Pop_Quiz

OK pop quiz time… I never would have imagined how many of you readers would actually email me to say that you love the quizzes! So be it. Here are 2 pretty cool quizzes that I personally enjoyed last week.

QUIZ 1: Can You Fill in the Blanks of These Bible Verses?

QUIZ 2: Did The Pope said that?

Just to set the bar, I got 8 on quiz 1 and 7 on quiz 2. These are more difficult than I thought!

Nutella

Finally now, who in the world hasn’t heard of Nutella, that hazelnut-chocolatey goodness that you spread on your toast in the morning? Did you know that the founder, Michele Ferrero, attributes its success to Our Lady of Lourdes? Read about it 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

A World Seeking the Path of Lenten Renewal

Lenten_Renewal

Perhaps now more than at any point in recent history, the world finds itself veering uncomfortably close to danger and uncertainty. We have a global financial system that is unsustainable and violence and military conflicts brewing in some of the world’s most volatile powder kegs. There are now new emerging problems like disease outbreaks and social unrest brewing, which leads one to a very troubling concerning conclusion: the world is a mess.

This isn’t to say that we haven’t in recent years had our share of regional or global problems. However there’s a particular unease to the intensity of the current state of affairs. The West lining up against Russia, the Islamic State and al Shabaab committing atrocities in Africa and the Middle East, social unrest in Venezuela, Ebola in West Africa, the list goes on and on. It’s at times like these when Christians are called to bare witness to their faith, and what better time to bear witness during this particular time of year.

It’s at this time that we begin the season of Lent, a time of renewal, for fasting, penance and alms giving. It is an opportunity to try to reframe oneself amidst all the chaos we find ourselves enveloped in, not just in the world, but also in our own lives. Finding the time to peacefully reflect, to pray, to develop good habits and to journey closer to God, are things we should all strive for. Were this the prevailing attitude worldwide at this time of year, is it unreasonable to think that we might not have quite the degree of conflict and uncertainty that we do today?

Solving the world’s problems begins with each and every one of us, and our own conversion of heart. We cannot allow power, greed and pride to rule us. The Apostolic Vicar to Tripoli, Libya, Bishop Giovanni Martinelli illustrated this very plainly this week in an interview with Vatican Radio. He chastised powerful interests, specifically western countries for helping themselves to Libya’s resources following the military intervention, which led to the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi. He said that it was self-interests and economic interests that have created a terrible void in the country, which has led to much destruction and death.

With Libya verging on being a failed state, Bishop Martinelli’s words bare ever-stronger meaning, as we can see the consequences of selfish individual choices gone awry. However the bishop has chosen not to abandon his post, and will no doubt give a heroing Lenten witness, as militants are already surrounding Tripoli. There will no doubt be suffering, little food, a need to serve the poor coupled with a desperate need for prayer. We are not all called to live a Lenten season so intense and full of daily life and death struggle. However there is much we can learn, much the world can learn from the bishop’s example.

The world needs more Bishop Martinellis, those who are resolute in their faith and who prayerfully witness and serve in spite of what others might do or say. May this Lenten season be an opportunity for us all to be closer to Christ.

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

Did you get your ashes at church today?

AshWednesday

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!

It is indeed that time of year again. For those of you who partied-hard over the past two days, (Pancake Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, Mardi-Gras etc…) to prepare for the next 40 days, and are now just wondering what to give up for lent, you’ve come to the right place. Here is a great article that’ll help you think about what to give up: 102 Things You Should Really Give Up for Lent. 

Now if you can’t find at least two, then you have a real problem on your hands. Consider then Pope Francis’s top 10 tips, then go back and revisit the above 102 Things you can give up for lent, and try again!

unibrowSeeing that today is Ash Wednesday, I’m sure that you’ve all gotten your ashes RIGHT?. Have you looked in the mirror to see what kind of ash design you got on your forehead? Check out this funny article on what kind of Ashes you might have gotten today. Personally, I’ve gotten the “Uni-Brow” once.

Speaking of Lent – the time of reflection, confession and conversion – have you thought about how well you know sin? Here yet again is an interesting Quiz for you to test your knowledge on the subject. You might be surprised on how little you actually know –  How Well do You Know Sin Test.

Now here’s an interesting video that’s making the news rounds. Famous Hollywood bad-boy Mark Whalberg shocks Hollywood after he talks about his faith in God and prayer on CNN. Check it out here.  It’s quite the conversion story.

On a more serious note, it is no secret that that Pope Pius XII hasn’t always received the credit he deserved for helping the Jewish people during the atrocities they suffered during WW2. Here is an interesting article that I came across recently as to the hidden reason why Hitler hated the Venerable Pope Pius XII. And for those of you interested in understanding more about this great Pope, check out the film we produced on his life, Hand of Peace.

You can buy the dvd 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 enjoyed these little stories! I certainly have. Till next week!

- Noel

Dreading Lent?

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Trisha Villarante

Trisha Villarante

I was, until I asked a friend of mine what she thought about lent and she said it was her favourite time in the liturgical calendar. I was taken aback when I saw how in love she was and how selfish I was being.

Do you know what it takes to know and to experience the greatest love of all? If you’re dreading lent you either don’t know or you’ve forgotten, because Lent is literally the experiencing of true love in its fullness.

Lent is the opportunity to know and experience a love so great that its occurrence was intended for every human soul that has ever lived and will ever live. Hidden under the guise of ugliness, injustice, sorrow and incomprehensible suffering lay the greatest gift to man – God himself.

So, how can you dread such a gift? Maybe because it doesn’t come easy, and we know we have to put effort into it – but if it didn’t take any effort, it wouldn’t be worthwhile.

Remember Your Conversion

A great starting point to observing lent well is to remember your conversion. Everyone has had one, or if you haven’t had one yet, pray for it! In fact we should be praying for daily conversions – but think of a time where you were really convicted and set on fire for God.

When I returned to the Faith, lent set my heart on fire with love. I started out with a really good confession and allowed the graces to pour in. I like to look back on that time and read the things I’ve written to help me recall what being on fire for God is like, to help me rekindle that flame once again.

Lent is for Everyone

Even those who don’t know about it, it’s for them too! If you want to observe lent really well, and to make the ‘sacrifice’ easier, think of people in your life who either don’t know about Christ, or who have left the Faith and do it on their behalf.

Lent is for everyone, the poor, the broken, the addicted, the lost, the hungry, the confused – because it was intended for everyone. Think of and pray for you friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc. You can even make a list of names to help you remember concretely whom you are praying for.

Observing lent with greater purpose will help turn the season from one of darkness to joyful self-giving – uniting yourself even closer to Christ – because that’s how Christ got through it. He had all of us in mind.

You Don’t Have to Give Anything Up

When people think of lent, they often think of what they need to ‘give up’. Well, you don’t necessarily have to give anything up – you can ‘add on’.

You can add something on to your daily routine that will remind you of Jesus throughout your day. Perhaps something you’d like to eventually become a habit.

For example, making a morning offer, going to daily mass, saying the rosary with your family, setting aside a specific time of day for mental prayer, reading the Gospel of the day, going to confession and or spiritual direction regularly, etc. Or, If you already do all those things, how about resolving to do them better or more frequently? We can always do more.

Don’t just give up something up or add something on, and then binge or drop it the minute our Lord resurrects, making the offering completely pointless. Make each sacrifice consciously and lovingly with faith that our Lord delights in your efforts. In doing so you unite yourself even closer to the conscious and loving sacrifice he made for us, every step of the way.

There are even daily meditations booklets/programs such as this one that can be helpful during these 40 days.

The element of ‘sacrifice’ is essential, because it’s an opportunity to empty ourselves from the things that may have been deterring us from Christ and to be refilled with Christ himself – which is the whole point of lent.

Empty Yourself to be Filled

Pray about it, ask Him what’s keeping you from Him these days. Whatever it is, make it good, do it for God and for others, and you’ll see how lent will lead you to happiness, because it will bring you closer to the likeness of Christ.

Don’t be afraid to “starve” yourself a little from what you’re used to or what you desire, because whatever we give up, or add on to our daily routine will never be as big a sacrifice as the one Jesus made for us.

Observing lent isn’t an inconvenience it is a worthwhile practice of self-mastery that we all need to acquire. Emptying yourself will give you clarity, and an opportunity to know and discover what will really make you happy.

As you get into it, you’ll start to find Jesus Christ in places you may have forgotten Him, or places you never knew He reigned – but has been there all along.

This lent, I pray we experience the source of true Love, grow in knowledge and likeness of Christ, and that we may have daily conversions by persistently uniting ourselves to Him for our sake and for the sake others.

Written by Trisha Villarante

CNS photo/Carl o Allegri, Reuters

The Ways of the Desert

Jesus Tempted cropped

First Sunday of Lent, Year B – February 22, 2015

Does anyone really look forward to Lent? What is it about Lent that excites us? What aspects of the Lenten journey test us? The Scriptural readings for this season are carefully chosen so as to replay salvation history before our very eyes.

Let us begin with Jesus in the desert — the Gospel for the first Sunday of Lent. The desert sun and the pangs of hunger and thirst conjured up the demon for him. Mark presents Jesus wrestling with the power of Satan, alone and silent in the desert wastes. Mark’s version of the temptations of Jesus does not mention three temptations, nor does it say that Jesus fasted. Mark’s whole focus is on presenting the temptations of Jesus as part of the great struggle between good and evil, between God and Satan.

Jesus’ desert experience raises important questions for us. What are some of the “desert” experiences I have experienced in my life? What desert experience am I living through right now? When and how do I find moments of contemplation in the midst of a busy life? How have I lived in the midst of my own deserts? Have I been courageous and persistent in fighting with the demons? How have I resisted transforming my own deserts into places of abundant life?

In Matthew and Luke there is an ongoing conversation, as the prince of evil attempts to turn Jesus aside from the faith and integrity at the heart of his messianic mission. But if Israel had failed in the desert, Jesus would not. His bond with his Father was too strong for even the demons of the desert to break.

In the first temptation in the desert, Jesus responds to the evil one, not by denying human dependence on sustenance (food), but rather by putting human life and the human journey in perspective. Those who follow Jesus cannot become dependent on the things of this world. When we are so dependent on material things, and not on God, we give in to temptation and sin.

God’s in charge

The second temptation deals with the adoration of the devil rather than God. Jesus once again reminds the evil one that God is in control. This is important for us to hear and believe, especially when our own temptations seem to overpower us, when everything around us might indicate failure, shadows, darkness and evil. It is God who is ultimately in charge of our destiny.

In the third temptation, the devil asks for a revelation or manifestation of God’s love in favor of Jesus. Jesus answers the evil one by saying that he doesn’t have to prove to anyone that God loves him.

Temptation is everything that makes us small, ugly, and mean. Temptation uses the trickiest moves that the evil one can think up. The more the devil has control of us, the less we want to acknowledge that he is fighting for every millimeter of this earth. Jesus didn’t let him get away with that. At the very beginning of his campaign for this world and for each one of us, Jesus openly confronted the enemy. He began his fight using the power of Scripture during a night of doubt, confusion and temptation. We must never forget Jesus’ example, so that we won’t be seduced by the devil’s deception.

From Jesus we learn that God is present and sustaining us in the midst of test, temptation and even sinfulness. We realize that we must have some spiritual space in our lives where we can strip away the false things that cling to us and breathe new life into our dreams and begin again. We come to believe that God can take the parched surface of our hope and make it bloom. These are the lessons of the desert. That is why we need – even in the activity of our daily lives and work, moments of prayer, of stillness, of listening to the voice of God.

We meet God in the midst of our deserts of sinfulness, selfishness, jealousy, efficiency, isolation, cynicism and despair. And in the midst of the desert we hear what God will do if we open our hearts to him and allow him to make our own deserts bloom. The ways of the desert were deep within the heart of Jesus, and it must be the same for all who would follow him.

[The readings for this Sunday are: Genesis 9:8-15; 1 Peter 3:18-22 and Mark 1:12-15]

(Image: “Jesus Tempted in the Desert” by James Tissot)

This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2009 as well as on the Salt + Light Blog. The complete collection of reflections for Year B, entitled “Words made Flesh,” is now available in book form through our online store.

My Personal Journey Through Lent

RosinaLent1

rdf

Rosina Di Felice

As Lent quickly approaches, I reflect on how it is one of the most thought provoking periods for me during the liturgical year. I must admit though, this has not always been the case.

My early recollections of Lent, as a young child growing up in an Italian family in Montreal are quite vivid. I recall a somewhat gloomy period of sacrifice that consisted of giving up red meat on Fridays. By contrast, Palm Sunday was joyful. I was mesmerized by the waving of palms during mass in our crowded church and carrying our palms home and learning to make pretty crosses that we proudly displayed in our home. Good Friday was a somber day. It was difficult watching outdoor reenactments of the stations of the cross and trying to fathom what it was like for Jesus. I remember wondering why it was called “good” Friday when Jesus suffered so much for us. But Easter Sunday came and we rejoiced. Jesus is risen! It was a special time – a rebirth – a celebration with family. We feasted on lamb, rabbit and made traditional delicacies – beautiful eggs wrapped in bread braids.

RosinaLent2

Today, Lent takes on a much deeper purpose in my life. It’s truly a special time for spiritual growth. No longer do I think of it as only a period of sacrifice and abstinence. It is much more than that. It is also about reflection, repentance and almsgiving. I embrace lent, as it gives me the opportunity to get closer to God. It allows me to prepare for Easter, similar to how Advent prepares us for Christmas.

Lent is the time where I focus on God and make a more concerted effort to put Him first in my life. I spend much time thinking and reflecting on my relationship with God. It’s a challenging time where I take a hard look in the mirror and identify where I can make changes – where my walk does not match my talk.

Fasting and Abstinence

In addition to the usual abstinence and fasting on holy days, I gave long thought to what I would give up this year during Lent. Years ago, coffee, chocolate and sweets would have been contenders.  However, I needed to look deeper. I wanted to choose something that perhaps was taking me away from God. Giving something up is great, but taking action is even better.

When I identified what I wanted to give up during Lent, it made me become aware how much I depend on other things rather than God and how they are leading me away or neglecting Him. Inspired by Pope Francis’ humility, I’m giving up all personal shopping for things that I want – rather than things I need. And maybe at the end of the 40 day journey, I’ll depend on material things less, thus altering my behavior.

Almsgiving

Lent is also a time to evangelize and do good. It’s a time to remember all those less fortunate and give back. I will redirect time and money that would have been spent shopping for material things, and instead will participate with my family in feeding people at a homeless shelter and donating a few grocery items every week to a food bank.

Reflection & Repentance

In this very noise-filled and media-cluttered world, it is becoming harder to hear God’s voice. Add to that how time-starved we are, with a growing list of to-do items every day. But where is God on my to-do list? How often do I spend quality time with God in silence, meditating, praying and repenting? This is why I vow to turn off all distractions and spend an hour in silence every day dedicated to prayer and reflection. After all, if my goal this Lent is to grow in my relationship with God, how can I do so without spending more one on one time? I look forward to the Holy Spirit guiding me further on what I am called to do.

Perhaps my thoughts will inspire you to share your own personal journey with others in your life. Even though Lent is a personal time, the peace and joy we feel is even greater when we share it with others in our lives. Not only does this strengthen our faith, but it strengthens our sense of community with our brothers and sisters.

Matthew 5:16 “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

CNS photo/Octavio Duran

Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for Lent 2015 “Make your hearts firm” (James 5:8)

FrancisLent1

Please find below the full text of Pope Francis’ Lenten Message:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Lent is a time of renewal for the whole Church, for each communities and every believer. Above all it is a “time of grace” (2 Cor 6:2). God does not ask of us anything that he himself has not first given us. “We love because he first has loved us” (1 Jn 4:19). He is not aloof from us. Each one of us has a place in his heart. He knows us by name, he cares for us and he seeks us out whenever we turn away from him. He is interested in each of us; his love does not allow him to be indifferent to what happens to us. Usually, when we are healthy and comfortable, we forget about others (something God the Father never does): we are unconcerned with their problems, their sufferings and the injustices they endure…Our heart grows cold. As long as I am relatively healthy and comfortable, I don’t think about those less well off. Today, this selfish attitude of indifference has taken on global proportions, to the extent that we can speak of a globalization of indifference. It is a problem which we, as Christians, need to confront.

When the people of God are converted to his love, they find answers to the questions that history continually raises. One of the most urgent challenges which I would like to address in this Message is precisely the globalization of indifference. Indifference to our neighbour and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience. God is not indifferent to our world; he so loves it that he gave his Son for our salvation. In the Incarnation, in the earthly life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, the gate between God and man, between heaven and earth, opens once for all. The Church is like the hand holding open this gate, thanks to her proclamation of God’s word, her celebration of the sacraments and her witness of the faith which works through love (cf. Gal5:6). But the world tends to withdraw into itself and shut that door through which God comes into the world and the world comes to him. Hence the hand, which is the Church, must never be surprised if it is rejected, crushed and wounded. God’s people, then, need this interior renewal, lest we become indifferent and withdraw into ourselves. To further this renewal, I would like to propose for our reflection three biblical texts.

  1. “If one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Cor 12:26)– The Church

The love of God breaks through that fatal withdrawal into ourselves which is indifference. The Church offers us this love of God by her teaching and especially by her witness. But we can only bear witness to what we ourselves have experienced. Christians are those who let God clothe them with goodness and mercy, with Christ, so as to become, like Christ, servants of God and others. This is clearly seen in the liturgy of Holy Thursday, with its rite of the washing of feet. Peter did not want Jesus to wash his feet, but he came to realize that Jesus does not wish to be just an example of how we should wash one another’s feet. Only those who have first allowed Jesus to wash their own feet can then offer this service to others. Only they have “a part” with him (Jn 13:8) and thus can serve others. Lent is a favourable time for letting Christ serve us so that we in turn may become more like him. This happens whenever we hear the word of God and receive the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. There we become what we receive: the Body of Christ. In this body there is no room for the indifference which so often seems to possess our hearts. For whoever is of Christ, belongs to one body, and in him we cannot be indifferent to one another. “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honoured, all the parts share its joy” (1Cor 12:26). The Church is the communio sanctorum not only because of her saints, but also because she is a communion in holy things: the love of God revealed to us in Christ and all his gifts. Among these gifts there is also the response of those who let themselves be touched by this love. In this communion of saints, in this sharing in holy things, no one possesses anything alone, but shares everything with others. And since we are united in God, we can do something for those who are far distant, those whom we could never reach on our own, because with them and for them, we ask God that all of us may be open to his plan of salvation.

  1. “Where is your brother?” (Gen 4:9)– Parishes and Communities

All that we have been saying about the universal Church must now be applied to the life of our parishes and communities. Do these ecclesial structures enable us to experience being part of one body? A body which receives and shares what God wishes to give? A body which acknowledges and cares for its weakest, poorest and most insignificant members? Or do we take refuge in a universal love that would embrace the whole world, while failing to see the Lazarus sitting before our closed doors (Lk 16:19-31)? In order to receive what God gives us and to make it bear abundant fruit, we need to press beyond the boundaries of the visible Church in two ways. In the first place, by uniting ourselves in prayer with the Church in heaven. The prayers of the Church on earth establish a communion of mutual service and goodness which reaches up into the sight of God. Together with the saints who have found their fulfilment in God, we form part of that communion in which indifference is conquered by love. The Church in heaven is not triumphant because she has turned her back on the sufferings of the world and rejoices in splendid isolation. Rather, the saints already joyfully contemplate the fact that, through Jesus death and resurrection, they have triumphed once and for all over indifference, hardness of heart and hatred. Until this victory of love penetrates the whole world, the saints continue to accompany us on our pilgrim way. Saint Therese of Lisieux, a Doctor of the Church, expressed her conviction that the joy in heaven for the victory of crucified love remains incomplete as long as there is still a single man or woman on earth who suffers and cries out in pain: “I trust fully that I shall not remain idle in heaven; my desire is to continue to work for the Church and for souls” (Letter 254, July 14, 1897). We share in the merits and joy of the saints, even as they share in our struggles and our longing for peace and reconciliation. Their joy in the victory of the Risen Christ gives us strength as we strive to overcome our indifference and hardness of heart.

In the second place, every Christian community is called to go out of itself and to be engaged in the life of the greater society of which it is a part, especially with the poor and those who are far away. The Church is missionary by her very nature; she is not self-enclosed but sent out to every nation and people. Her mission is to bear patient witness to the One who desires to draw all creation and every man and woman to the Father. Her mission is to bring to all a love which cannot remain silent. The Church follows Jesus Christ along the paths that lead to every man and woman, to the very ends of the earth (cf. Acts 1:8). In each of our neighbours, then, we must see a brother or sister for whom Christ died and rose again. What we ourselves have received, we have received for them as well. Similarly, all that our brothers and sisters possess is a gift for the Church and for all humanity. Dear brothers and sisters, how greatly I desire that all those places where the Church is present, especially our parishes and our communities, may become islands of mercy in the midst of the sea of indifference!

  1. “Make your hearts firm!” (James 5:8) – Individual Christians

As individuals too, we are tempted by indifference. Flooded with news reports and troubling images of human suffering, we often feel our complete inability to help. What can we do to avoid being caught up in this spiral of distress and powerlessness? First, we can pray in communion with the Church on earth and in heaven. Let us not underestimate the power of so many voices united in prayer! The 24 Hours for the Lord initiative, which I hope will be observed on 13-14 March throughout the Church, also at the diocesan level, is meant to be a sign of this need for prayer. Second, we can help by acts of charity, reaching out to both those near and far through the Church’s many charitable organizations. Lent is a favourable time for showing this concern for others by small yet concrete signs of our belonging to the one human family. Third, the suffering of others is a call to conversion, since their need reminds me of the uncertainty of my own life and my dependence on God and my brothers and sisters. If we humbly implore God’s grace and accept our own limitations, we will trust in the infinite possibilities which God’s love holds out to us. We will also be able to resist the diabolical temptation of thinking that by our own efforts we can save the world and ourselves.

As a way of overcoming indifference and our pretensions to self-sufficiency, I would invite everyone to live this Lent as an opportunity for engaging in what Benedict XVI called a formation of the heart (cf. Deus Caritas  Est, 31). A merciful heart does not mean a weak heart. Anyone who wishes to be merciful must have a strong and steadfast heart, closed to the tempter but open to God. A heart which lets itself be pierced by the Spirit so as to bring love along the roads that lead to our brothers and sisters. And, ultimately, a poor heart, one which realizes its own poverty and gives itself freely for others. During this Lent, then, brothers and sisters, let us all ask the Lord: “Fac cor nostrum secundum cor tuum”: Make our hearts like yours (Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus). In this way we will receive a heart which is firm and merciful, attentive and generous, a heart which is not closed, indifferent or prey to the globalization of indifference. It is my prayerful hope that this Lent will prove spiritually fruitful for each believer and every ecclesial community. I ask all of you to pray for me. May the Lord bless you and Our Lady keep you.

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(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

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