Tag Archives: Lent

“What are you waiting for, Jesus?”

28 Mar

Crosses for married couples come in all different shapes and sizes. Whether in the form of death, illness, financial troubles or conflict, the “bad times” can really test our resolve!

In this week’s Gospel, Jesus waited two days before setting out to help His dying friend Lazarus, and the delay resulted in His friend’s death. In our suffering, we can often feel like Jesus is taking forever to help, and we fear He may come too late.

We can keep two important things in mind in these situations. First, “Jesus wept” over His friend’s death, and therefore we know that He suffers with us. Second, He allowed Lazarus to die in order to bring about a greater good.

As we approach Holy Week, let’s offer our pain to our merciful Savior, trusting in His wisdom and confident that the trial we bear will produce great fruit!

For help in finding joy in the midst of trial, go to www.JoyfulMarriageProject.com

The foregoing is this week’s installment of the “Marriage Minute,” produced by the Marriage and Family Life Office of the Archdiocese, which attempts to view the Sunday readings through the lens of the Sacrament of Marriage.

The Unseen Option

10 Mar

aaaHave you ever been caught between a rock and a hard place? This is an age-old expression that is relevant to so much of everyday family life.

In the trenches of marriage and family life, we sometimes find ourselves at the crossroads of two bad options. A couple in pain looks at a lifetime of misery on the one hand or divorce on the other. A woman in a crisis pregnancy sees the struggle of single parenthood on the one hand and abortion on the other. A family member makes a bad choice and we see compromising our beliefs on the one hand or severing a relationship on the other. This is tough stuff!

In this Sunday’s readings, God is all about offering a new option we haven’t seen before. We have a God who opened up the sea for the Israelites to pass through when they were trapped. He makes rivers run through deserts. And when He Himself was stuck between the demands of justice and mercy toward the adulterous woman, He resolved the dilemma with one simple question.

There is a promise here for us this weekend. “Those that sow in tears shall reap rejoicing.” Maybe the solution is a renewed love we never could have dreamed of. Maybe the answer is adoption for the “crisis” pregnancy? Maybe God shows us His own heart by teaching us to forgive one who rejects us.

We can’t know what solution God has up His sleeves. However, we do know two things: We can trust Him, and we won’t know His answer unless we ask Him. The lesson of Lent and that leads us to Easter glory is that God is an expert at bringing good out of seemingly impossible situations.

The foregoing is this week’s installment of the “Marriage Minute,” produced by the Marriage and Family Life Office of the Archdiocese, which attempts to view the Sunday readings through the lens of the Sacrament of Marriage.

Living in Lent

9 Feb

valentineThis year the first Sunday of Lent falls on Valentine’s Day. While prayer, fasting, and almsgiving don’t seem particularly romantic, there is actually a significant tie-in.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is tempted by Satan to put temporal things such as money and power before His relationship with the Father. Isn’t that what gets in the way of our feeling “in love” in our marriages? Long hours at work crowd out time together. Stress about bills tends to make us snap at each other. A desire to be right drives a wedge between us.

We don’t mean it, but sometimes these things get in the way of the fundamental truth that we are a man and woman in love.

If this is our situation, what if we decided to rethink Lent this year? What if we skipped giving up chocolate and instead tried to do something we know would make our spouse feel more loved? Here are some ideas:

  • Skip lunch out at work and buy flowers with the money.
  • Fast from criticism.
  • Suggest a date night (out or in) that includes your spouse’s favorite activity.
  • Make an effort to correct a habit that irritates your spouse.
  • Be home by 6 for dinner.
  • Set a specific time to pray for or with your spouse.

For marriage enrichment opportunities, check out www.archkck.org/family. Let us take advantage of the graces of Lent to help improve our most significant relationship!

The foregoing is this week’s installment of the “Marriage Minute,” produced by the Marriage and Family Life Office of the Archdiocese, which attempts to view the Sunday readings through the lens of the Sacrament of Marriage.

Family Ideas for Lent

11 Feb

40 daysLent can be a hard season to get excited about. Surely it lacks the jingle and sparkle of Advent. Even more, it’s longer, falls right as we are getting sick of winter and, more to the point, involves sacrifice.

Further, it’s difficult to explain to kids. Most kids can understand the excitement of waiting for a baby to be born. Even when there is sacrifice involved in Advent, it’s surrounded by a sense of joy. Many of us have a much harder time giving our kids a good focus for the sacrifice that leads up to . . . the violent death of our Savior.

Below are some suggestions for activities that can (hopefully) help your family to embrace the three practices of Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Prayer. Prayer is simply talking to God. The formal prayers of our Church are ways that Christians have been talking to God for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years. I think we need both “from the heart” time with God, as well as a way to connect with all those who have come before us (“formal” prayer). Here are some suggestions for ways to bring prayer alive for your family:

  • For younger children:
    • help them to tell God one thing they are grateful for and one thing they really need each day
    • print off a children’s version of the Stations of the Cross (some even have coloring pages), and talk about one each day
  • For older children:
    • Read scripture (maybe the Sunday Gospels?) and have them tell you one line that stood out to them and ask them why
    • Engage their strengths in learning the Stations of the Cross. If they are artistic, they can draw one per day or week. If they are writers they can write prayers for each station, etc.
    • Find famous paintings of the Stations from different cultures and explore them with your children
  • For teens:
    • Encourage them to start a prayer journal that you won’t look at
    • Use Lent as an excuse to get involved in a good youth group or teen retreat
    • Have teens write a “teen stations,” relating one or more of the Stations to the difficulties that teenagers face
  • As a family:
    • Make a regular time to pray together. If that is totally new to your family, try just saying one thing you are grateful to God for each day. Other options are a family Rosary, a chaplet of Divine Mercy, a decade of the Rosary, or one Station of the Cross each day
    • Use Stations the children have made (or print some from the internet) and put a small votive near each one around your home. Move around the house as you would around the Church as you pray.
    • Choose a short Scripture verse that is appropriate for the season and say it after every meal. You and your children will have it memorized in no time!

Fasting. I think the key to successful fasting as a family is to explain to everyone what it’s for. When we fast, we give up a material good for a spiritual one. Even young children can understand what it is to give something up for someone else. For example, my son was terrified of getting a flu shot last year, but he found courage to do it when we told him that he was protecting his baby sister from getting the flu. We sacrifice out of love for God.

  • For children:
    • Make a “crown of thorns” out of clay or craft wire with toothpicks for “thorns.” Each time a member of the family makes a small sacrifice, they take a thorn out of Jesus’ crown. This is a way of connecting their sacrifice to love for Jesus.
    • For each sacrifice, children get to put jellybean in a jar . . . that they can eat during the Easter season!
    • Remind children that sacrifices should be something they like that they are giving up, or something hard for them to do (i.e. doing what mom asks the first time they are asked!) Varying the sacrifices can keep it from being too burdensome, and can help children start thinking of ways they can sacrifice for others.
  • For teens:
    • Have your teens consider giving up video games, iPad, Facebook, cell phone time (for non-essential purposes), etc. If the prospect of being unplugged for 40 days is too overwhelming, maybe consider unplugging on Fridays. Hint: agree to do it with your child!
    • Ask teens to help plan and prepare the Friday meatless meal. They may enjoy looking into meatless meals that are a staple for other cultures.
    • Invite your teen to “give up” a treat that costs money such as a movie out with friends, a snack after school, etc. Put that money in a jar and allow them to choose the charity for donation.
  • For families:
    • Choose one night a week during Lent to be family night, where all activities are cancelled (this may take some serious effort!). Use the time to pray a little bit, then either play board games or watch a movie with a good message that will inspire conversation.
    • Join in with one of the other activities above.
    • Consider one thing your family can “give up” together.

Almsgiving. Almsgiving just means serving others out of love. Several of the suggestions above for sacrifice could be used for this as well, but here are a few more:

  • Parents “pay” for each sacrifice, putting coins in a jar for each good deed. Alternately, if there is a behavior your family is working on changing (for instance, saying “Oh my God!”), each member of the family can put a quarter of their own money in each time they say it! The money then goes to a charity of the family’s choice.
  • Skip a meal out in order to buy your family’s favorite groceries for a food pantry.
  • Volunteer together at your favorite organization together.
  • Practice “deliberate acts of kindness” within the family. You can even do a Lenten spin on the “Advent Angel” idea, having each member do secret, thoughtful deeds for another family member.

Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list, nor could any family handle everything mentioned. I hope it has gotten you thinking, though, about what will best help your family grow in holiness. Happy Lent, everyone!

Go and Sin No More

7 Apr

woman caught in adulteryIn today’s Gospel, we hear the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), an episode found only in St. John’s Gospel. If we go back a few verses, we read that Jesus spent the evening at the Mount of Olives (John 7:53-8:1), the site of the garden known as Gethsemane, where Jesus would undergo His agony after the Last Supper. This site had always been a place of prayer (see 2 Samuel 15:32; Ezekiel 43:1-4), and Scripture records that Jesus often went to the Mount of Olives to pray to His Heavenly Father (Luke 22:39).

Then, early in the morning, Jesus went to the Temple, where people came to hear Him teach. This was the scene when the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman who had just been caught in the act of adultery. As the scribes and Pharisees quickly pointed out, this offense was punishable by death pursuant to the Law of Moses. They asked Jesus what He had to say about this.

Clearly there was a mob mentality afoot, as the religious leaders clamored for the death penalty for this woman. But there was much more to it than that; they were setting a trap for Jesus. If Jesus called for the execution of the woman, He would be reported to the Romans, as the Jews were not authorized to administer capital punishment. If Jesus refused to call for her execution, He would be violating the Mosaic Law. He already was perceived as being overly indulgent toward sinners, and this would make Him appear to be a compromiser lacking any real moral authority.

Jesus did not choose either of these alternatives. Instead, He stood up and famously instructed the one who was without sin to cast the first stone.

Then Jesus did something very interesting: He bent down and began writing with His finger in the dirt. Saints and theologians through the centuries have speculated as to what Jesus was writing. At no other time in Scripture do we hear about Jesus’ writing down anything. It would be fascinating to know what He wrote on this occasion!

One tradition is that Jesus was writing down the sins of the scribes and Pharisees who were overly focused on the woman’s sin. Whatever Jesus was writing, the effect was that one-by-one they all walked away, beginning with the “oldest,” which in this context would mean the wisest. Perhaps the scribes and Pharisees were convicted by Jesus’ words and/or writings. Or maybe they believed that they were sufficiently righteous so as to execute the woman, but feared reprisal from the Romans. Regardless, from a “pr” standpoint, they were the ones who ultimately appeared weak and sinful in the face of Our Lord’s challenge.

This left Jesus alone with the woman. Jesus made explicit the fact that no one was going to condemn her, and neither was He, even though He was without sin (Hebrews 4:15) and could have “cast the first stone.” He saved this woman’s life. He showed her mercy. However, He did not condone the sin, but rather commanded the woman to decisively turn away from the sin in her life.

The Church reminds us that each of us is like that woman caught in adultery. In the Old Testament, God revealed that every sin is really an act of adultery, because it entails infidelity to God’s covenant of love. The prophets referred to Israel as His adulterous bride, and, in some ways, each of us by our sins has become that adulterous bride. Each of us merits to be stoned. But, Christ laid down His life to make His bride, the Church, holy and spotless (Ephesians 5:25-27).

He, the only one who is truly qualified to cast a stone, died out of love so that His bride wouldn’t have to.

All this should have three effects in us.

First, we should recognize the gravity of our sins and understand how deadly they are — not only do they kill us, but they killed the Lord, the one who loved us more (and more purely) than anyone ever will.

Second, we should seek out His mercy. He doesn’t want us to wait until others catch us in the act of a serious sin and drag us to Him, but rather we should come to Him on our own accord.

Third, we must stop judging others and begin to extend God’s merciful forgiveness to them, as Jesus clearly teaches us that the measure with which we measure will be measured back to us.

This week’s readings remind us of the inestimable value of the Sacrament of Penance. Just as Jesus cuts through the complexity of our sin to provide a just and merciful decision in today’s Gospel, so today in the confessional He is willing to do something “new” in our lives, as He applies the same wisdom and mercy as medicine so as to restore life and vitality to our immortal souls.

All of the elements found in today’s Gospel—such as sin, law, guilt, contrition, mercy, justice, and liberation—are at work in the confessional: a penitent who has broken God’s Law, a conscience troubled, sins confessed, a just penance assigned, an Act of Contrition recited, and above all, redemptive mercy received.

Are Sundays of Lent Days of Penance?

25 Mar

Sundays during Lent have a penitential character, but one markedly different from that of the weekdays of Lent. Because Sunday is primarily a day of celebration of the Resurrection (Catechism, nos. 2174, 2177), it is not counted among the “forty days” of Lent that are traditionally marked by fasting.

“The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice” (Catechism, no. 2181) and retains its essential character as a day marked by “worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body” (Catechism, no. 2185).

Nevertheless, the entire season of Lent, including the Sundays of Lent, is a time of penance. The penitential character of Sundays of Lent is reflected in the wearing of violet vestments and the prayers and readings of the Sunday Masses. It is also reflected in the prohibitions of the singing of the Gloria and the Alleluia, the adorning of the altar with flowers, and the playing of the organ and other instruments (except for the purpose of accompaniment).

The discipline of the Church and the piety of Christians throughout the centuries demonstrate that penance is expressed differently on Sundays of Lent from weekdays of Lent. In the early Middle Ages in the West, the weekdays of Lent were days of fast (one meal) and abstinence (at that time, from dairy products as well as from meat), while Sundays of Lent were days of abstinence only. The Holy See later permitted meat and dairy products to be eaten on Sundays of Lent. Today, of course, only Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fast and abstinence (from meat), while all the Fridays of Lent are days of abstinence.

Penance extends beyond fasting. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:

“The seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year (Lent, and each Friday in memory of the death of the Lord) are intense moments of the Church’s penitential practice. These times are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works)” (no. 1438).

Sundays of Lent, then, have a penitential character, which may include spiritual practices such as prayer, almsgiving, pilgrimages, and retreats, without in any way losing the sense of their being set apart as the “Lord’s Day.”

Click here for more on the history of Lenten observances.

Give It Up!

4 Mar

I remember well my first Lent in a religious community in the 1980s. Most of us seminarians, like many people out in the world, gave up sweets for 40 days. The one time that this penance really came into play was during the afternoon coffee break. The nearby Au Bon Pain restaurant donated day-old pastries to the seminary, and these were typically brought out to give us a little sugar boost to get us through metaphysics and epistemology (with mixed results).

So, while the rest of us were wistfully looking at the full tray of Au Bon Pain goodies, one delightfully chubby seminarian walked up and started munching on a big chocolate croissant. In between bites (barely) he told me, “This year I decided to do positive penance, so I’m just going to be charitable.”

The seminarian was joking, but this did illustrate how our image of ”Lenten penance” can become skewed. As we celebrate “Fat Tuesday” today in anticipation of the beginning of Lent tomorrow, I thought I would point out four approaches to Lent that seem a little disordered.

(1) Lobstermania

Of course all Catholics are called to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent. Hence we have all the fish fries, cheese enchilada nights, and “parish soup and stations [of the Cross]” nights. If one simply went from parish to parish on Fridays during Lent, one would eat better than he or she normally would the rest of the year.

There’s nothing wrong with this, and in fact, these events can have the positive effect of building up the parish community.

Still, the purpose of the meatless days is to provide an opportunity for self-denial, so I wonder about going out to restaurants for lobster, mahi mahi, or other seafood delicacies that are technically “legal,” but hardly penitential. For vegetarians and for those who love seafood, abstinence from meat requires little effort, and so the challenge for them–and for all of us–is to internalize both the letter and the spirit of the fast and abstinence laws.

(2) Legalism Gone Amuck

It’s always fun to see what little kids “give up” for Lent. Some of us, even as grown-up kids, have learned to work the system. We give up Diet Coke, but we can have Coke Zero or Diet Pepsi. We give up Mounds, so we have Almond Joy. We give up television, but rent a boatload of videos.

Or we’ll make crucial exceptions. We’ll give up watching sports, which isn’t too tough once football season is over, but then make an exception for March Madness or Opening Day at the K (in other words, when there’s a sporting event we really want to watch).

Or we’ll give up alcoholic beverages, but make exceptions for everyone’s birthday, baptism day, saint day, anniversary, Tuesdays, and national holidays. And of course Sundays, solemnities, and St. Patrick’s Day never count.

These are, of course, voluntary acts of penance, and at times adjustments need to be made out of charity and prudence. But sometimes we might ask ourselves how much we’re really willing to sacrifice for Our Lord.

(3) Catholic X-Games

This one is especially attractive to zealous young people who really want to “do something” for God. One year as a green “revert” to the faith I actually tried to fast the entire period of Lent on bread, limited amounts of juice, and water. I didn’t make it to Easter, and after a couple weeks I was so weak I couldn’t do much of anything.

In subsequent years I tried to moderate the penances a little more, but still went a little overboard, especially when it came to depriving myself of sleep.

Therein we see the importance of having a sound spiritual guide who can help us maintain a healthier balance in our lives, especially given our work and family responsibilities. But even more, we can’t allow our penances to devolve into mere “feats of will power” rather than loving offerings to God. It’s not about us.

(4) Catholic Weight Loss Plan

All this talk of fast and abstinence ties in nicely with the need most of us have to lose a few pounds (okay, in my case, more than a few pounds). Hey, why start a diet on New Year’s with the Super Bowl just around the corner? And besides, why do you think they call it “Fat Tuesday” (Mardi Gras)? The idea is that we binge through Super Bowl weekend, culminating in an outlandish display of gluttony on Fat Tuesday. Even if we didn’t need to go on a diet before, we need to now!

There’s nothing wrong with losing some weight this month, and the fact that Lent provides some built-in impetus for such self-improvement can be a real blessing. The only caveat is that Lent is about 40 days of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in anticipation of Our Lord’s suffering, death, and resurrection. We’re training for Easter, not for the Olympics or a Nutrasystems ad!

And a legitimate weight-control (and spiritual) program should be year-round and avoid gluttonous behavior.

Okay, those are a few mindsets to avoid. But how should we approach Lent?

I think how this time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving plays out differs from person to person, and our own individual approach varies as we go through different stages of life. But one thing is sure: Whatever we do, our focus should be primarily on the Lord, and secondarily on serving Him in the poor and needy in our midst.

Maybe my seminarian friend was right after all. It would be a most fruitful Lent indeed if I become more charitable–love God more, and love my neighbor more. Everything else is just (lo-cal, meatless) gravy.