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Coast to Coast: February 7 to February 13

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Here is some of what we’ve been reading this week across the country:

In Ontario, Catholic Crosscultural Services is helping government-assisted refugees settle into their home

In Saskatoon, an elementary school has stepped up to sponsor a refugee family from Burundi.

From Edmonton, we get this look at what Lent is and is not.

 

A Walk with the Lord

A man carries a statue of Christ on the cross while participating in a Holy Thursday procession in Izalco, El Salvador, April 5. Catholics throughout Latin America celebrate Holy Week with processions and religious festivals. (CNS photo/Ulises Rodriguez, Reuters) (April 6, 2012)

A man carries a statue of Christ on the cross while participating in a Holy Thursday procession in Izalco, El Salvador, April 5. Catholics throughout Latin America celebrate Holy Week with processions and religious festivals. (CNS photo/Ulises Rodriguez, Reuters) (April 6, 2012)

 

Today we begin that long walk towards Holy Week, which culminates in celebrating the greatest event in human history: the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Something that never fails to inspire awe in me however, is just how diverse our expressions of faith are. Encountering different Catholic rituals around the world, sometimes I’m intrigued, other times shocked.

Nevertheless, all of these devotions are an opportunity to reflect more deeply on Christ.

In the coming days, I’ll share with you images of Lent from around the world in a blog series entitled:

A Walk with the Lord.  I hope you’ll enjoy!

All photos are courtesy of our friends at Catholic News Service.

Ambassadors for Christ and Ministers of God’s Justice

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Ambassadors for Christ and Ministers of God’s Justice
A Biblical Reflection for Ash Wednesday, Year C
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

Ash Wednesday makes one’s faith very visible and public.  Not offensively, but also not easy to miss, the sign of our faith shows up in the office, at school, on buses and subways, in lines at grocery store, or at the gas station.  This small symbol of the cross of ashes on our foreheads expresses an important truth:  faith doesn’t happen only at church, but lives among us, in public, every day.

The Scripture texts for the liturgy of Ash Wednesday do not only remind us of sin and death; they are a loud call to overcome sin, to be converted to Christ and the Gospel and to prepare for the new life of Easter.  I would like to offer some reflections on what it means to be reconciled to God, to be an “Ambassador for Christ” [II Cor 5:20-21], and the meaning of authentic piety and devotion as outlined in Matthew’s Gospel text for today’s liturgy [6:1-6, 16-18].  I will conclude with some thoughts on Pope Francis 2016 Lenten Message that has as its theme: “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Mt 9:13). The works of mercy on the road of the Jubilee.

Be reconciled to God!

Today – the liturgy tells us – is the “acceptable time” for our reconciliation with God.  Reconciliation is a gratuitous gift of God.  Reconciliation must involve everyone: individuals, families, nations and peoples.  In the passage from II Corinthians 5:20-21, Paul encouraged the fractious Corinthian community to recognize that God has “reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” [5:18].  Paul speaks of “the new creation in Christ” [cf. II Cor 5:17] and goes on to tell us: “God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself, not holding individuals’ faults against them, and he has entrusted to us the news that we are reconciled… the appeal we make in Christ’s name is: be reconciled to God” [II Cor 5:19-20].

When we speak of the world as reconciled to God, we are speaking not only of individuals but also of every community: families, communities, clans, tribes, nations and states. In his providence, God made covenant after covenant with the human family: the covenant with our first parents in the Garden of Eden; the covenant with Noah after the Flood and the covenant with Abraham.  In the Book of Joshua we learn about the covenant made with Israel, when Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in the land of Egypt. And God has now made the final and definitive covenant with all of humanity in Jesus Christ, who reconciled individual men and women — as well as entire nations — to God by his Passion, Death and Resurrection.

In the sacrament of the Eucharist, we celebrate the mystery of our redemption and full reconciliation with God.  It is through his passion, death and resurrection that Jesus has saved the world.  Before receiving the body and blood of the Lord, we show that we are at peace with one another. The Eucharist is celebrated by a reconciled community.  When the celebration is ended, we are sent out to spread this peace and message of reconciliation to others.

Ambassadors for Christ

Because we have been entrusted with this message of reconciliation, we are “ambassadors for Christ” [5:20].  The mission that we have been given is one of high rank. It is a mission that ennobles us. Because we have been called to be ambassadors, we have to be true and loyal to the one we represent.  An ambassador is known by his or her credentials. Ambassadors must give credible proof that they have been sent. As ambassadors of Christ we too must give proof of our mission. And the greatest proof is our own fidelity to the Christian way of life.

If we are reconciled with God, with ourselves and with others, and if we in turn foster Christ’s reconciliation in society, we can make a convincing claim to be ambassadors of the Prince of Peace.  Just as God took the initiative in sending his son to reconcile the world, so he expects us to take the initiative to restore harmony to a broken world and an often-divided Church.

Can we apply this Christian vision, this wonderful mission of reconciliation, to our own situations?  Can we put it into practice among family, friends and community members and try over and over again when we fail?  It is very sad when grudges are carried for long periods of time, when people refuse to speak together, when the joy of attending reunions or celebrations is denied someone, perhaps for a misdemeanor that occurred long ago and whose circumstances are practically forgotten!

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Jesus’ three-fold process of self-denial

Matthew’s Gospel [6:1-6, 16-18] issues a warning against doing good in order to be seen and gives three examples for right living: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  In each, the conduct of the hypocrites [6:2] is contrasted with the behavior demanded of the disciples. The sayings about reward found here and elsewhere [Matthew 5:12, 46; 10:41-42] show that this is a genuine element of Christian moral exhortation.

Let us look closely at what the Gospel demands of us in this threefold process of self-denial:  we must pray: “Go to your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in private.”  We must fast: “No one must see you are fasting but your Father.”  We must give alms: “Keep your deeds of mercy secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”  There is nothing ambiguous about what is required of us this season.  Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the pillars of the Lenten journey for Christians.  This is the piety, the devotion and the sincerity that the Lord seeks from us this Lent.

Here is an excerpt from Pope Francis’ Message for Lent this year: “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Mt 9:13). The works of mercy on the road of the Jubilee.

The works of mercy

God’s mercy transforms human hearts; it enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn. In an ever new miracle, divine mercy shines forth in our lives, inspiring each of us to love our neighbour and to devote ourselves to what the Church’s tradition calls the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. These works remind us that faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbours in body and spirit: by feeding, visiting, comforting and instructing them. On such things will we be judged. For this reason, I expressed my hope that “the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy; this will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty, and to enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy” (ibid., 15). For in the poor, the flesh of Christ “becomes visible in the flesh of the tortured, the crushed, the scourged, the malnourished, and the exiled… to be acknowledged, touched, and cared for by us” (ibid.). It is the unprecedented and scandalous mystery of the extension in time of the suffering of the Innocent Lamb, the burning bush of gratuitous love. Before this love, we can, like Moses, take off our sandals (cf. Ex 3:5), especially when the poor are our brothers or sisters in Christ who are suffering for their faith.

In the light of this love, which is strong as death (cf. Song 8:6), the real poor are revealed as those who refuse to see themselves as such. They consider themselves rich, but they are actually the poorest of the poor. This is because they are slaves to sin, which leads them to use wealth and power not for the service of God and others, but to stifle within their hearts the profound sense that they too are only poor beggars. The greater their power and wealth, the more this blindness and deception can grow. It can even reach the point of being blind to Lazarus begging at their doorstep (cf. Lk 16:20-21). Lazarus, the poor man, is a figure of Christ, who through the poor pleads for our conversion. As such, he represents the possibility of conversion which God offers us and which we may well fail to see. Such blindness is often accompanied by the proud illusion of our own omnipotence, which reflects in a sinister way the diabolical “you will be like God” (Gen 3:5) which is the root of all sin. This illusion can likewise take social and political forms, as shown by the totalitarian systems of the twentieth century, and, in our own day, by the ideologies of monopolizing thought and technoscience, which would make God irrelevant and reduce man to raw material to be exploited. This illusion can also be seen in the sinful structures linked to a model of false development based on the idolatry of money, which leads to lack of concern for the fate of the poor on the part of wealthier individuals and societies; they close their doors, refusing even to see the poor.

For all of us, then, the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year is a favourable time to overcome our existential alienation by listening to God’s word and by practising the works of mercy. In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited; in the spiritual works of mercy – counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer – we touch more directly our own sinfulness. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated. By touching the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering, sinners can receive the gift of realizing that they too are poor and in need. By taking this path, the “proud”, the “powerful” and the “wealthy” spoken of in the Magnificat can also be embraced and undeservedly loved by the crucified Lord who died and rose for them. This love alone is the answer to that yearning for infinite happiness and love that we think we can satisfy with the idols of knowledge, power and riches. Yet the danger always remains that by a constant refusal to open the doors of their hearts to Christ who knocks on them in the poor, the proud, rich and powerful will end up condemning themselves and plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is Hell. The pointed words of Abraham apply to them and to all of us: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Lk 16:29). Such attentive listening will best prepare us to celebrate the final victory over sin and death of the Bridegroom, now risen, who desires to purify his Betrothed in expectation of his coming.

Let us not waste this season of Lent, so favourable a time for conversion! We ask this through the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, who, encountering the greatness of God’s mercy freely bestowed upon her, was the first to acknowledge her lowliness (cf. Lk 1:48) and to call herself the Lord’s humble servant (cf. Lk 1:38).”

Video Reflection for Ash Wednesday: It Took 40 Days

Temptations Correspond to Our Vulnerabilities

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First Sunday of Lent, Year C – February 14, 2016

An ancient proverb says: “Good habits result from resisting temptation.” On Ash Wednesday we heard three fundamental orientations for this season in the rich Scripture readings: almsgiving, prayer and fasting.

Lent is a season of solidarity, of sharing, of openness to our neighbor, especially toward the most needy. Lent is also the favorable time for personal and community prayer, nourished by the Word of God as proclaimed each day in the liturgy. This year at the beginning of Lent, we are invited to focus our attention on Luke’s account of the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. How can we develop some good habits this Lent as we strive to overcome our temptations?

Led by the Spirit into the wilderness

Most of us are very familiar with the three graphic temptations of Jesus as related by Matthew and Luke in their Gospel accounts of Jesus in the desert. As a result of the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus at his baptism (Luke 3:21-22), that same Spirit leads Jesus into the desert for 40 days to be tempted by the devil. The mention of 40 days recalls the 40 years of the wilderness wanderings of the Israelites during the Exodus (Deuteronomy 8:2).

At the outset we must ask ourselves as countless people have asked throughout the ages: How could it be said that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into temptation? If Jesus was God, and God is incapable of being tempted, how could Jesus have been tempted? Such questions arise when we consider the temptations of Christ. How do we reconcile what we know about God, Jesus, and temptation, with what is said to have happened in the gospel accounts regarding Christ‚s temptations?

Lukan aspects of the temptations of Christ

Let us consider several important aspects of this Sunday’s Gospel story of Jesus tempted. The Holy Spirit did not lead Jesus into temptation. The Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness. The evil one would utilize the moment of Jesus‚ physical weakness and exhaustion in the desert to tempt him. Satan would consider this “an opportune time,” and he would look for other “seasons” as well. The devil did the tempting, not the Holy Spirit!

Neither Matthew (4:1-11) nor Luke claim to represent the chronological sequence of the temptations. Luke may have reflected on the scene from the standpoint of geography, relating the two in the wilderness first, and then the one on the temple’s pinnacle. Matthew records that after the temptation on the high mountain, Jesus said, “Away from me, Satan.” Matthew’s order, therefore, may be the chronological sequence, but there is no contradiction between the two evangelists.

Luke represents the three specific temptations as occurring after the 40 days of fasting (4:2-3). The Lord may have endured many temptations during the 40 days, but the three temptations were the culminating, most intense testing, of Jesus‚ wilderness solitude. Luke’s temptations conclude on the parapet of the temple in Jerusalem, the city of destiny in the third Gospel. It is in Jerusalem that Jesus will ultimately face his destiny (9:51; 13:33).

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.

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 so important for us to hear and believe, especially when our own temptations seem to overpower us, when everything around us might indicate 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 that God loves him.

Luke says that the devil left him when he “had ended every temptation” (4:13). Are we to understand that the devil never tempted the Lord again? Luke 4:13 indicates that the devil’s temptations ended on that occasion “for a season,” or “until an opportune time.” The devil’s opportune time will occur before the passion and death of Jesus (22:3, 31-32, 53). It was after Jesus endured the desert wilderness that he withstood temptation. Alone and defenseless against the wind and the weather, exposed to both day and night, and even exposed to the seeming absence of God, this experience of desert wilderness is a part of human growth and maturity.

Our temptations

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. It will do us well not to forget Jesus‚ example, so that we won’t be seduced by the devil’s deception. We are tempted in the same ways Jesus was — wanting to have power over life and death, wanting to control our economic futures, putting our appetite for food ahead of our appetite for God. But trusting in God, as Jesus did, will make us strong.

Temptation is everything that makes us small, ugly, and mean. Temptation uses the trickiest moves that the evil one can think up. And his power is greater and stronger than our own human power. 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.

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 desert wilderness? Have I been courageous and persistent in fighting with the demons? How have I resisted transforming my own deserts into places of abundant life?

Far from creating a great divide between Jesus Christ and ourselves, our own trials and weaknesses have become the privileged place of our encounter with him, and not only with him, but with God himself, thanks to this man of the cross. Jesus has been tested in all respects like us — he knows all of our difficulties; he is a tried man; he knows our condition from the inside and from the outside — by this did he acquire a profound capacity for compassion. For one must have suffered in order to truly feel for others. From Jesus we learn that God is present and sustaining us in the midst of test, temptation and yes, even sinfulness.

As Christians, we are in a constant fight with the desires born of our sinful natures. We are unable to resist temptation without God’s grace. We are called to trust the Lord (not ourselves) for strength to resist temptation before it becomes sin. It is not the temptation itself that leads us to sin, but the lack of resistance and trust in the Lord for deliverance.

Christ identifies with our struggles

Jesus, the friend of tax collectors and sinners, knew well that temptation could simply overcome people. Victims of poverty, ignorance, prejudice, oppression, abuse, violence and drugs reveal to us how easily people can be driven beyond endurance. Those who pray with Jesus share his profound sense of ultimate human helplessness and dependence.

Christ was human and He can identify with our struggles. Hebrews 4:14-16 says, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Lord, lead us not into temptation! Rather, guide us into the pathways of justice, love and peace during these Lenten days. Give us the grace and fidelity to be faithful to our God and Father in heaven. Give us the courage to accept who we really are and where we should be.

[The readings for the 1st Sunday of Lent are: Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Romans 10:8-13; and Luke 4:1-13]

(Image: “Jesus Tempted” by Tissot)

Second Chances: Judas and ISIS

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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!

With all the atrocities and horrors being committed against Christians in the Middle East, here is a story that sticks out like a palm tree in the desert! Apparently, an ISIS fighter converted to Christianity after “Allah” refused him entrance to the gates of heaven. Read all the details here. Somehow, I’m just not surprised but it’s interesting nevertheless. Why does he get such a revelatory second chance?

Speaking of interesting, when one thinks of Judas Iscariot, it’s a fairly common belief that he isn’t up in heaven basking in God’s glory with the angels… Or is he? Here is very interesting article published by CNN that raises some interesting questions. Read about it here.

Fifth week of lent and this comes across my desk only now. Here is a really neat infographic that explains the Penitential Season – please feel to share this graphic far and wide!

Info Graphic - Lent

We all have them. That special priest friend or spiritual director who has been there for you. At one point or another, we’ve all been faced with the question: What gift (for Christmas, Easter, birthday etc.) should you give him? The last thing Fr. Joe needs is another crucifix, a rosary, a statuette or an icon. Here are some epic suggestions from our friends at Epicpew.

Speaking of epic, have you seen these 14 Christian scenes finely sculpted out of sand?Sand

Everything from La Pieta and Our Lady of Guadalupe to Jesus on the Cross have been beautifully hand sculpted into sand.

On a more serious note, I found this article on Mary and Why Demons are so Afraid of Her particularly interesting because it was written from a former protestant’s viewpoint on Father Gabriele Amorth’s, (formerly the chief exorcist for Rome), two books, An Exorcist Tells His Story and An Exorcist: More Stories.

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What’s particularly interesting about Fr.Amorth’s accounts of several exorcisms was the presence and power of Mary. There is definitely Something About Mary! Read all the details here.

Last week, National Catholic Reporter published an article that asks some thought-provoking questions: Is the Shroud of Turin real, as many Catholics believe? Or is it a product of the 14th century? Does it matter at all? – and, if it does, how much does it matter? This article, based on a new CNN series, “Finding Jesus” and an interview with Jesuit Fr. James Martin is definitely not to miss. Read it here.

And finally, I leave you with this great video that is popping up all over social media titled, ‘The Beauty of the Catholic Church.’

Leading up to the World Meeting of the Families in Philly, I’m absolutely certain that more amazing videos will surface shortly!

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

Deacon-structing Lent: part 4

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So far in part 1, we looked at questions people have regarding fasting and abstinence, in part 2 we looked at suffering and in part 3 we looked at what Scripture has to tell us about why Jesus had to suffer.  I think when people think of Lent, that’s what they think about: fasting, abstinence and suffering. Add to that penance.

It is true that Lent is a penitential season, but do you know that the word “Lent” comes from the old English word, “lencten” which  was the word used for “Springtime?” It comes from the old Germanic: “Lengen-tinza” which literally means “long days” (think of the English word “lengthen,” to make long – that’s the same root as the word Lent.) So the word ‘Lent’ refers to the lengthening of days; to the light that is defeating the darkness.  I think most of us think of penance and fasting when we think of Lent, but Lent is also about light defeating darkness. That’s what we see in the fourth Sunday of Lent this year. (On 4th Sunday in Cycle B with Jesus speaking with Nicodemus and also in Cycle A with the story of the man born blind).

How many of you, when you think of Lent, think of Baptism? (I would hope that those preparing for Baptism are thinking of Baptism during Lent; but the rest of us?) Recently, I received a book by Jerry Galipeau titled, You Have Put On Christ: Cultivating a Baptismal Spirituality. In it, he says that Lent is a baptismal time. He quotes the Second Vatican Council Document Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, #109:

“The season of Lent has a twofold character: primarily by recalling or preparing for baptism and by penance, it disposes the faithful, who more diligently hear the word of God ad devote themselves to prayer, to celebrate the paschal mystery. This twofold character is to be brought into greater prominence both in the liturgy and by liturgical catechesis.”

 And so, Lent has a two-fold character; two equally important strands: a baptismal one and a penitential one – we tend to over-emphasize the penitential one.  Traditionally, those preparing to be baptised or received in the Church do their final preparations during Lent. They are called Catechumens and we do see a special baptism emphasis for them during Lent, but all of us should be recalling our Baptism. At the Easter Vigil we will all be renewing our Baptismal promises.

I interviewed Jerry Galipeau for the SLHour for the first week in Lent and afterwards I decided that this Lent I was going to pay extra attention to the readings and prayers and look for all the baptismal themes. I was not sure as to what I was going to find. Then I came to the readings for the first Sunday in Lent. There are Baptismal elements in all the readings all throughout Lent, but let me use the first Sunday, Cycle B as an example:

The first reading from Genesis 9:8-15 takes place just after the flood. God is establishing a Covenant with all Creation; He will never again destroy with a flood. The flood was a cleansing, but also an opportunity for a new life, a regeneration. St. Peter, in the second reading (1 Peter 3:18-22) , tells us that the flood and the Ark prefigure Baptism. That’s what happens at Baptism: it is a cleansing and also an entering into a new life, a new life in Christ.

But the first reading is not directly about the flood; it is about God establishing a Covenant. Guess what I found: The YouCat (the Church’s youth catechism given to us by Pope Benedict XVI.) It says that “Baptism is a covenant with God” because “the individual must say Yes to it.” (YC#194) That makes sense since every Sacrament involves our action and God’s action: We do something and God does something – that’s a covenant. In Baptism, we do something: the prayers, the ritual, everything with the water, the oils, the white garment, the candle – that our part. Then God does his part; He sends us his Grace. In Baptism, we primarily receive two Graces: We are freed from sin and we are reborn as children of God (CCC#1213).  By going through the waters of Baptism, literally plunging into the waters (the word baptism comes from the Greek baptizein, which means “to plunge”) just as the people in the time of Noah went through the flood, we die to sin, all sin is buried in the waters, and we come up on the other side, reborn into Christ. Baptism is a death and a resurrection. St. Paul says that all who are baptised are baptised into the death of Christ, we are buried with him, so that as Christ is raised, we too can walk in the newness of life (Rom 6:3-4; Col 2:12). In Baptism, we are freed from all sin and we become children of God, no longer slaves to sin, but as adopted sons and daughters of God, who now have access to God’s very life, to the life that Adam and Eve had in the Garden of Eden. We must say yes to that. God does his part and we must agree. That’s what makes it a Covenant.

Now, the Gospel from the first Sunday in Lent is always about Jesus going to the desert. It’s easy to look at Mark’s version (1:12-15) and focus on the fact that Jesus goes into the desert – that’s very Lenten, very penitential. But what happens just before Jesus goes into the desert according to Mark? He is baptised! Then all Mark says about Jesus going to the desert is that “he was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness” and in the desert he overcomes temptation; he overcomes sin and he is among wild beasts and the angels minister to him. Who else lived among wild beasts and the angels ministered to them? Adam and Eve. So according to Mark, Jesus going into the desert is an analogy to what happens at baptism: We are freed from sin (Jesus never sins; he overcomes temptation), no longer slaves to sin but having all the benefits that come with being children of God, the Communion with God that Adam and Eve had.

And then what does Jesus do? He begins his ministry. And that’s what we forget about Baptism. Baptism is not the end of the journey, but the beginning. Baptism is the door to Faith and to ministry in the Church. God establishes a Covenant with us and we have to do our part.

So Lent is a time to remember and reflect on our Baptism. For most of us, we were baptised many, many years ago – we don’t remember it – some of us don’t even know when we were baptised or where. Some don’t have a relationship with their Godparents. We should know, at the very least when and where we were baptised. I was baptised on February 8th, 1969 at San Francisco de la Caleta Parish in Panama City, Panama. I know who was there, I have photos and I know who my Godparents are. Do you? Your baptism is where it all began. I would not be here today, as a Deacon, working at S+L and writing this, had I not been baptised. Most of you would not be reading this and would not be in Church every Sunday had you not been baptised – and I don’t mean Catholic baptism; I mean all Christian Baptism, because it’s all the same. We believe in one Baptism. If you are baptised in any Christian denomination, you are baptised – you’ve been freed from Original Sin and you have become a child of God. But we forget and don’t give Baptism the importance that it requires.

I used to think that since I was so young at my baptism and still very young at my Confirmation, there should be a second Confirmation – around our 30s when we truly accept, with full knowledge that we want to be Catholic followers of Jesus Christ – when we would renew our baptismal promises with full consent and knowledge. Most of us have forgotten our baptismal promises. But we don’t need a second Confirmation. At every Mass, when we pray the Creed, we are renewing our baptismal promises, and it is done with special importance, as a community during the Easter Vigil, at the end of Lent. So Lent is a time when we remember and reflect on our Baptism, so that at the Easter Vigil we can renew with vigour our part of the Covenant. God does his part; let’s prepare during this Lenten season so we can do ours.

Come back next time and we’ll deacon-struct Holy Week.

Pope Francis’ Homily with announcement of Year of Mercy

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On Friday, March 13, 2015, during the penance service in St. Peter’s Basilica, the Holy Father announced an extraordinary Jubilee dedicated to Divine Mercy. Below, please find Vatican Radio’s English translation of the Pope Francis’s homily, in which he made the announcement.

This year as last, as we head into of the Fourth Sunday of Lent, we are gathered to celebrate the penitential liturgy. We are united with so many Christians, who, in every part of the world, have accepted the invitation to live this moment as a sign of the goodness of the Lord. The Sacrament of Reconciliation, in fact, allows us with confidence to draw near to the Father, in order to be certain of His pardon. He really is “rich in mercy” and extends His mercy with abundance over those who turn to Him with a sincere heart.

To be here in order to experience His love, however, is first of all the fruit of His grace. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, God never ceases to show the richness of His mercy throughout the ages. The transformation of the heart that leads us to confess our sins is “God’s gift,” it is “His work” (cf. Eph 2:8-10.) To be touched with tenderness by His hand and shaped by His grace allows us, therefore, to approach the priest without fear for our sins, but with the certainty of being welcomed by him in the name of God, and understood notwithstanding our miseries. Coming out of the confessional, we will feel God’s strength, which restores life and returns the enthusiasm of faith.

The Gospel we have heard (cf. Lk 7:36-50) opens for us a path of hope and comfort. It is good that we should feel that same compassionate gaze of Jesus upon us, as when he perceived the sinful woman in the house of the Pharisee. In this passage two words return before us with great insistence: love and judgment.

There is the love of the sinful woman, who humbles herself before the Lord; but first there is the merciful love of Jesus for her, which pushes her to approach. Her cry of repentance and joy washes the feet of the Master, and her hair dries them with gratitude; her kisses are pure expression of her affection; and the fragrant ointment poured out with abundance attests how precious He is to her eyes. This woman’s every gesture speaks of love and expresses her desire to have an unshakeable certainty in her life: that of being forgiven. And Jesus gives this assurance: welcoming her, He demonstrates God’s love for her, just for her! Love and forgiveness are simultaneous: God forgives her much, everything, because “she loved much” (Luke 7:47); and she adores Jesus because she feels that in Him there is mercy and not condemnation. Thanks to Jesus, God casts her many sins away behind Him, He remembers them no more (cf. Is 43:25.) For her, a new season now begins; she is reborn in love, to a new life.

This woman has really met the Lord. In silence, she opened her heart to Him; in pain, she showed repentance for her sins; with her tears, she appealed to the goodness of God for forgiveness. For her, there will be no judgment except that which comes from God, and this is the judgment of mercy. The protagonist of this meeting is certainly the love that goes beyond justice.

Simon the Pharisee, on the contrary, cannot find the path of love. He stands firm upon the threshold of formality. He is not capable of taking the next step to go meet Jesus, who brings him salvation. Simon limited himself to inviting Jesus to dinner, but did not really welcome Him. In his thoughts, he invokes only justice, and in so doing, he errs. His judgment on the woman distances him from the truth and does not allow him even to understand who guest is. He stopped at the surface, he was not able to look to the heart. Before Jesus’ parable and the question of which a servant would love his master most, the Pharisee answered correctly, “The one, to whom the master forgave most.” And Jesus does not fail to make him observe: “Thou hast judged rightly.” (Lk 7:43) Only when the judgment of Simon is turned toward love: then is he in the right.

The call of Jesus pushes each of us never to stop at the surface of things, especially when we are dealing with a person. We are called to look beyond, to focus on the heart to see how much generosity everyone is capable. No one can be excluded from the mercy of God; everyone knows the way to access it and the Church is the house that welcomes all and refuses no one. Its doors remain wide open, so that those who are touched by grace can find the certainty of forgiveness. The greater the sin, so much the greater must be the love that the Church expresses toward those who convert.

Dear brothers and sisters, I have often thought about how the Church might make clear its mission of being a witness to mercy. It is a journey that begins with a spiritual conversion. For this reason, I have decided to call an extraordinary Jubilee that is to have the mercy of God at its center. It shall be a Holy Year of Mercy. We want to live this Year in the light of the Lord’s words: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (cf. Lk 6:36)

This Holy Year will begin on this coming Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and will end on November 20, 2016, the Sunday dedicated to Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – and living face of the Father’s mercy. I entrust the organization of this Jubilee to the Pontifical Council for Promotion of the New Evangelization, that [the dicastery] might animate it as a new stage in the journey of the Church on its mission to bring to every person the Gospel of mercy.

I am convinced that the whole Church will find in this Jubilee the joy needed to rediscover and make fruitful the mercy of God, with which all of us are called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time. From this moment, we entrust this Holy Year to the Mother of Mercy, that she might turn her gaze upon us and watch over our journey.

Deacon-structing Lent: part 3

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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

S+L Celebrity Watch: Clapton and Colbert

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Noel-BlogWelcome to S+L’s Weekly News Round-Up, where we search, summarize and present to you interesting Catholic News from around the world.

As the Director of Marketing and Communications here at S+L, I am exposed to many interesting Catholic news stories and articles on a daily basis. Some of them we cover on our different programs and others I’d like to share through other media channels.

I thought I’d put together and share some of the interesting articles that I’ve come across over the past week. Enjoy!

Eric_ClaptonGood old Eric Clapton. Who doesn’t know the living rock and roll legend who was notorious in the 60’s for that crazy rock lifestyle?

But what most people don’t know about him was his return to the Blessed Virgin Mary at the lowest period of his life. “I was in complete despair,” wrote Clapton. “In the privacy of my room, I begged for help. I had no notion of who I thought I was talking to, I just knew that I had come to the end of my tether . . . and, getting down on my knees, I surrendered.” Check the entire story here on Aleteia.

And here’s the video of Eric Clapton as he sings the song he wrote for Blessed Mother performed with Pavarotti:

Speaking of Momma Mary, have you seen this cool infographic explaining the seven approved recent Marian apparitions?

Marian_ApparitionOk, so we are on the third week of Lent. If you are struggling through the do’s & don’ts of Lent, don’t fret! Check out the illustrated guide to Lenten fasting and abstinence. This will help you get your bearings pointed in the right direction!

Considering that it’s still Lent, I hope that a good and thorough confession is on the top of your to-do list. Have you ever tried to explain the sacrament of confession to someone who doesn’t believe in the sacrament? Well, here is an excellent video that’ll do the hard work for you! Plus side – it is easily sharable!

Here’s another great video. I just love these cartoon explanations! See it here.

One last bit on the topic of Lent. If you are like some people (that I know…), and are having a real difficult time with the “fish thing” during Lent, check out this pretty cool Lenten survival guide for people who hate fish. There in contains many great ideas that even I didn’t consider.

Celebrity Watch Small

Who doesn’t love a great comedic celebrity, especially an outspoken, Catholic one?

Just yesterday, a video started to circulate on the websphere of Stephen Colbert and Fr. James Martin freestyling a hilarious interview where Stephen professes his faith and talks about many things Catholic. This is a must see. – Prepare yourself for some laughs!

Finally now, to close off this blog entry, I thought I’d share this feel-good video that’s making the rounds on social media. It’s a candid video of monks in Jerusalem engaged in a snow ball fight!

That’s it for me 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

Pope Francis guide to repentance – Perspectives Daily

What does it mean to repent? Pope Francis has details, and we tell you what they are. Chile will be home to a distinctive work of liturgical art, we’ll give you the details, and the cause for the beatification of Fra Andrew Bertie has been opened.