Tag Archives: Lent

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord A Dual Feast

April 3, 2020

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“Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.” As seen in the sacristy in the Franciscan Bethphage Church, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, Israel. Father Michael Van Sloun

The Dual Nature of the Feast.  Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord.  It is a dual feast.  It has traditionally been known as Palm Sunday because the Mass begins with a gospel text that recounts how palm branches were used to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem, and because palm branches are blessed at the beginning of Mass and carried in procession as part of the Entrance Rite.  It has also traditionally been known as Passion Sunday because the Passion Narrative is proclaimed during the Liturgy of the Word.

A Unique Aspect of the Palm-Passion Liturgy.  This is the only Sunday of the entire liturgical year in which two separate gospel passages are read at the same Mass.  The liturgy begins with a special opening rite with the gospel proclamation of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem as the crowd waved palms and cried out, “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Year A, Mt 21:1-11; Year B, Mk 11:1-10 or Jn 12:12-16; Year C, Lk 19:28-40). At the regular gospel time the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ is proclaimed in its entirety (Year A, Mt 26:14-27:66; Year B, Mk 14:1-15:47; Year C, Lk 22:14-23:56).

One Mass with Two Distinct Moods.  The Mass has two very different sentiments or feeling tones, jubilation, then lamentation.  The opening scene is festive.  As Jesus mounted the donkey the excitement rose to a fever pitch.  The crowd swelled.  Full of joy, the people waved their palm branches with gladness, laid their cloaks on the roadway with reverence, marched next to Jesus in happiness, and raised their voices with exuberance as they confidently proclaimed Jesus as the “Son of David” (Mt 21:9), “the prophet” (Mt 21:11), and their King.  As the Mass begins with the procession with palms, we honor Christ as our King and sovereign Lord, and the procession with palms into or around the church is intended to recapture the energy and enthusiasm of Jesus’ regal cortege from Bethpage down the Mount of Olives and through the gates of the Holy City, Jerusalem.

An Abrupt Change.  Only moments later there is a jarring mood shift.  The former exhilaration comes to an abrupt halt.  The tone suddenly becomes dark and dreary with the proclamation of four somber readings.  The first reading is the third Suffering Servant Canticle of Isaiah (Is 50:4-7) with the sad words, “I gave my back to those who beat me” (Is 50:6a);  the Responsorial Psalm is Psalm 22, the first portion which foretells a chilling aspect of the passion of the Messiah, “They have pierced my hands and my feet” (Ps 22:17b); and the second reading is the Christ Hymn with the grim statement that Jesus became “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8b).  The culmination of the Liturgy of the Word is the proclamation of the Passion, the painful account of how Jesus was scourged, crowned with thorns, nailed, crucified, and killed.  This bitter account causes our hearts to ache with sorrow.

The Paschal Mystery.  Holy Week begins with mourning, weeping, and lamentation.  The Cross is the most ignominious of all deaths, yet it is through the Cross that Jesus ultimately triumphed as our King and Savior.  This solemn week is filled with anguish and grief, but it ends with an ever greater mood shift, the joy and exaltation of the Resurrection and Easter.

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The Battle with Temptation

February 28, 2020

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St. Michael The Archangel, God’s Mighty Warrior (Rev 12:7) Model for confirmands, fully initiated Catholics “a soldier for Christ” St Michael’s Duluth, MN

Lent focuses on sin, evil thoughts, words, and deeds, as well as the good that we have failed to do; and the First Sunday of Lent focuses on temptation, those things that would induce us to sin. Jesus wants us to turn away from sin (see Mt 4:17; Mk 1:15). He also wants us to battle temptation and resist it with all our might.

A temptation is an evil thought that suddenly comes to mind. The temptation makes something bad look desirable, attractive, fun, or rewarding. Typical temptations are to say something unkind about someone else, to strike back and hurt someone who has harmed us, to tell a lie to get out of trouble or make ourselves look better, or to do something sexually impure or immoral.

Temptations come from the devil, not God. God is pure goodness and God detests evil. God wants us to be good and do good. God would never trick us, lead us into harm’s way, or set us up for failure. The devil, on the other hand, is like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (see 1 Pt 5:8), constantly on the prowl, the deceiver, the master of lies, who pursues us relentlessly, morning, noon, and night, and places one evil thought after another into our minds. Then, once the temptation is under consideration, the devil tries to make it look acceptable and enjoyable, and then seduces the person to act on the evil impulse.

An evil or impure thought is not automatically a sin. When a temptation appears, at first for the person who receives it, the temptation is morally neutral. No good or evil has been done. The moral quality of a temptation is determined by how the person who receives the temptation deals with it. If the person who receives the temptation and then thinks about it is horrified at thought, finds the temptation objectionable, rejects it, and refuses to act upon it, the person has taken something evil and made it a moral good.

On the other hand, when a temptation appears, instead of rejecting it, the person may hang on to the thought and mull over it. To toy with a temptation is the first stage of a sinful thought. The evil thought becomes progressively more sinful as a person moves from thinking about the evil deed to desiring it, and then from desiring it to making the conscious decision to do it, and then from making the conscious decision to designing a plan to carry it out. The evil thought becomes an evil deed once the temptation is carried out.

At one time when a person received the Sacrament of Confirmation, the fully initiated Christian was called a “soldier for Christ.” The title has fallen into disuse. Many do not like the word “soldier.” They claim that it is too militant and rationalize their position with the assertion that Christianity is about love and service. Do not be fooled. Every person is constantly assaulted by the devil with temptations. Adam and Eve were tempted in the garden. Jesus was tempted in the desert. We are tempted throughout the day and wherever we go. We are engaged in mortal combat. Disciples arm themselves with Christ and his gospel, and with the strength that God supplies, go nose to nose with the devil, fight with great bravery and ferocity, and resist the devil and his allurements with all their might.

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Plan to make a good Lent this year

February 21, 2020

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Stained glass window is from St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Morgan, MN

Lent. Lent is a penitential season, a time to “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The season lasts for forty days, the same amount of time that Jesus spent in prayer and fasting in the desert. The liturgical color is violet or purple, the symbol of repentance and sorrow for sin. Sin is real, and over the course of the year spiritual slippage normally occurs. Our sins can become more frequent or grow more serious. Lent is a time to re-examine, acknowledge how we have offended God and neighbor, admit our failings, seek God’s forgiveness, receive God’s healing grace, reform our lives, conform ourselves to God’s will, and make headway in virtue and holiness.

Lenten regulations. One way to make a good Lent is to observe the two Lenten regulations: abstinence and fasting. The abstinence regulation requires all those who have reached their fourteenth birthday to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and all of the Fridays of Lent. The fasting regulation applies from one’s eighteenth to fifty-ninth birthday. All those in this age range are to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Fasting means one full meal and two smaller meals that together do not equal the larger one, with no food between meals except beverages. This obligation does not apply to those with special health conditions or physically demanding work. Those in doubt should consult a priest or confessor.

Penitential Practices. Another way to make a good Lent is to observe the four penitential or ascetical practices: prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and works of charity.

Prayer. Prayer is at the top of the list. Lent offers an opportunity to intensify prayer, to pray more, or better, or with a richer variety. There are two main types of prayer: communal-liturgical and individual-private, and both are necessary for a well-balanced prayer life. Regular communication is key to every quality relationship, and if we hope to be close to God, regular prayer is a must.

Communal Prayer. The cornerstone of communal prayer is the Sunday Mass, and it is the indispensable starting point, whether in Lent or any time of the year. To have a good Lent, consider adding something to your communal prayer. The highest-rated option is daily Mass, one or two times a week, or possibly every weekday. Parishes offer a variety of other options: the communal recitation of Morning or Evening Prayer, the rosary, the Stations of the Cross, or a parish retreat or mission. At home, the family can offer prayers together at mealtime, bedtime, or any other time when two or more pray together.

Individual Prayer. Jesus frequently went off to pray by himself, and so should we. There are many options: Eucharistic Adoration; scripture reading and reflection; a silent or directed retreat, contemplation and meditation; the rosary, the chaplet, litanies, and prayer books; spiritual reading such as the writings or lives of the saints; a prayer journal; singing along with sacred music in the car; or a solitary prayer walk outside.

Fasting. Fasting is a form of self-denial, one of the most traditional forms of penance. In some circles it is not fashionable to give something up for Lent, with the objection that it is “too negative,” except self-denial is the path to self-mastery. If we want to have a good Lent, it would be worthwhile to give up some non-essential pleasure like dessert, candy, pop, ice cream, alcohol, tobacco, or television for a day or the week. The foremost form of self-denial is fasting from food, and Jesus demonstrated its importance when he fasted forty days and nights in the desert (Matthew 4:2), and he presumed that his disciples would do the same (Matthew 6:16,17). When hunger pangs come, it takes determination to say, “No!” and if we can consistently say “No” to something small like food, with improved self-control it is much more likely that we will be able to say “No” when something bigger like temptation comes our way.

Almsgiving. Almsgiving is not the same as stewardship of treasure or sacrificial giving, money shared to support the ministries of the parish and the wider church. Almsgiving is giving over-and-above what is given to the church: money, food or clothing, goods or services that are shared to help the poor and needy. Almsgiving is penitential, as scripture says: “Prayer and fasting are good, but better than either is almsgiving accompanied by righteousness” (Tobit 12:8); “Almsgiving expiates every sin” (Tobit 12:9); and “Atone for your misdeeds by kindness to the poor” (Daniel 4:24). A fine way to make a good Lent would be to make special donations to disaster relief, a food shelf, a soup kitchen, an orphanage, or some other charitable agency that cares for the poor or troubled.

Charity. Kind deeds are also penitential, because “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). Plan to do something thoughtful for someone: extend thanks, offer a compliment, fulfill a promise, listen attentively, run an errand, help with a job, make a phone call, send flowers or a card, be polite, tell a clean joke, or visit someone in a hospital or nursing home, just to name a few. Random acts of kindness are good, but planned ones are better. Acts of love toward a neighbor draw a person away from selfish preoccupation and closer to God.

Plan for Lent. Lent is a time to break sinful habits that have not received the remedial attention they deserve, implement spiritual upgrades that have been put off for a long time, and break out of a spiritual holding pattern. Our plan for Lent should be to “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

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Laetare Sunday: The Fourth Sunday of Lent

March 29, 2019

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Rose in Stained GlassA Joyful Term. Laetare is a Latin term for joy, rejoicing, or gladness. The Entrance Antiphon sets the mood. It begins, “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all you who were mourning; exalt” (see Is 66:10).

A Joyful Break. Lent is a somber, penitential season. It is unpleasant to spend forty days concentrating on our sinfulness. As we examine our consciences, it is sad and humbling to count the number of sins that we have committed. The process can be demoralizing. Laetare Sunday is supposed to be a bright and happy occasion, a one-day breather, not dwelling so much upon our sinfulness but upon the joyful promise of God’s mercy.

Joyful Progress. Laetare Sunday is the Fourth Sunday of Lent, roughly the midpoint of the season. Three and a half weeks are completed and only three weeks remain. This means that our Lenten disciplines, the fasting, abstinence, self-denial, and other rigors are over half completed, and that the end of our self-mortification is in sight.

A Joyful Outlook. It is uplifting to know that Easter Sunday is only three weeks from today.

A Joyful Exception. “During Lent, it is not permitted to decorate the altar with flowers” (Roman Missal, 70), but Laetare Sunday is an exception to this rule. On that day “the altar may be decorated with flowers” (Roman Missal, 106); the liturgical color is violet, but the color rose may be used; and the music typically is more subdued, but the use of instruments and more upbeat melodies is appropriate.

Joyful Orations. The Collect begins with the joyful news that the human race is reconciled to God, and it mentions the “solemn celebrations to come,” the joyous celebration of the Triduum, the Institution of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday, salvation and redemption on Good Friday, and the Resurrection on Easter, all reasons for joy. The Prayer over the Offerings states, “We place before you with joy these offerings which bring about an eternal remedy,” everlasting life in heaven with God. The Communion Antiphon repeats the joyful theme, “You must rejoice, my son, for your brother was dead and has come to life” (Lk 15:32). The Prayer after Communion makes the joyful observation that God enlightens everyone who comes into this world.

Joyful Scripture Readings. The first reading from Joshua recounts a joyful moment in the history of Israel when the forty year sojourn in the desert was over and they were about to cross over into the Promised Land (Jos 5:9a,10-12). The Responsorial Psalm says, “Look to him that you may be radiant with joy” (Ps 34:6a), and gives multiple reasons for joy: God listens to our prayers, delivers us from our fears, and saves us from distress. In the second reading St. Paul makes mention of two joyful realities, how through Christ we have been made into a new creation (2 Cor 5:17) and our trespasses are no longer counted against us (2 Cor 5:19).

A Joyful Gospel. The Parable of the Forgiving Father is a joyful description of the mercy of God. It should bring us great joy to know that as the father welcomed the sinful son, so God welcomes us when we go to him, and the way that the father embraced the son is the way that God embraces us, even after we have failed (Lk 15:20). It is reason for celebration and rejoicing when the dead sinner comes to life again (Lk 15:24,32).

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A fresh approach to self denial and good works

March 8, 2019

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This Lent don’t be stuck in a rut. “Same old, same old” – is old. If nothing changes, nothing changes! The same old routine yields the same old results. If we want things to be different (i.e., better), we must do things differently. Except different requires change, and change requires effort, and change can be uncomfortable. Fear and laziness are the two biggest obstacles. Don’t be afraid. Give a little extra effort. Keep what works but add or substitute something new. A fresh approach can be invigorating.

I will give you restConsider a two part-plan for starters. Part One: Give something up for Lent! About this time of year I brace myself for my one big pre-Lent pet peeve. As Ash Wednesday approaches it is a strange annual phenomenon, but several people will whisper their little secret to me: “Father, I’m not going to give up anything for Lent this year. All of this denial stuff is too negative.” And then proudly declare, “I am only going to do something positive this Lent.” It is not nice to say in reply, “Bad plan,” but it is misguided. Lent is a penitential season, and self-denial is an indispensable penitential practice.

The “negative” part of Lent is the focus on sin. It is not very “positive” to pay attention to our evildoing, but we must. Jesus said “Repent” in his opening statement in Mark’s gospel (Mk 1:15). “Repent, and believe in the gospel” is the formula for the signing with ashes. Repent means “Quit sinning,” “Be sorry for sin,” and “Change for the better.” It takes tremendous self-control and self-denial to stop sinning. We may not like self-denial, but Jesus demands it: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself” (Mk 8:34).

Self-denial is extremely beneficial because it teaches self-mastery and builds strength to battle temptation. It is relatively easy to give up a little pleasure. Select something different to give up this year. It could be sweet rolls, cookies, popcorn at bedtime, or a favorite TV program. We all have something we really like that we really do not need. Make a firm resolution to give it up for forty days, no exceptions. Our desires should not control us, God should. If the item is a sweet roll, when it comes to mind, it is a moment to be mindful of God because our goal to please God is the motivation behind our self-denial. And we need to practice saying, “No!” As we get better and better at refusing the sweet roll time after time throughout the day, we gain spiritual mastery over our preferences, particularly our sinful ones, and we become increasingly adept at saying no when temptation comes knocking.

Part Two: Do something positive for Lent! The person who only wanted to do something positive had a good idea, but it was incomplete. A balanced approach is both negative and positive; we should give something up and do good works.

When it comes to good works, try to be sneaky and invisible! In the gospel for Ash Wednesday Jesus tells us, “Be on guard against performing religious acts for people to see” (Mt 6:1). Jesus wants us to be invisible. Jesus also advises, “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Mt 6:3). He wants us to be sneaky – in a good sense! The purpose of our good works should not be to gain the admiration or thanks of others. If our good works are “sneaky,” they will be a pleasant surprise to someone, and if they are “invisible,” the person will have no idea who did it and be unable to offer a complement, sing our praises, or return the favor. Surprise blessings of unknown origin are gifts from God. When we are sneaky and invisible we are like angels, God’s messengers bringing God’s blessings.

It is like Secret Santa for Lent. Leave an encouraging note in someone’s cube at work. Put a candy bar on someone’s desk or a little gift in someone’s mailbox. Let someone else go first. Anonymously pay for the meal of someone at another table. The possibilities are endless. Be creative in finding new ways to be kind to others, and be so clever as to go unnoticed. Then, to God goes the glory!

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The Transfiguration: A Glorious Moment to Encourage Jesus

February 23, 2018

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As we begin Lent, we look ahead to the end of Lent and the celebration of the Paschal Mystery during the Sacred Triduum, the commemoration of the Passion, death, and Resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter.

At the midpoint of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus predicted to his disciples that this would take place: “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days” (Mk 8:31).

This alarming news shocked his disciples, but it was far worse for Jesus. Jesus had seen crucifixions before. He knew how cruel the Romans could be. The thought that he would have to endure something so ghastly and excruciating was dreadful, almost intolerable. Jesus understood that a person has to take up his cross (see Mk 8:34) and that a person has to lose his life to save it (see Mk 8:35). For Jesus, his words of advice to his disciples were not just religious slogans or pious platitudes; they would be a brutally harsh reality for him. It rocked him to the core. It would make a person stop in his tracks. It was time to reassess. How could he possibly carry on? It was a decisive moment, a moment of decision. Jesus wondered, “Shall I continue with my mission or shall I abandon the plan?” It was time to recommit.

His Father in heaven intervened. Jesus went up a high mountain and was transfigured. His clothes became dazzling white, like no robes on earth, only the robes in heaven. Moses and Elijah appeared, visitors from heaven. A cloud enveloped them, as a cloud surrounds all of the angels and saints in heaven. A voice was heard that came from heaven. Just when Jesus was tempted not to endure the suffering to come (see Mk 8:32b,33), the Father gave his Son timely help, a glimpse of heaven, a vision of the glory in store for him, the place where he would return and reign in majesty for all eternity, if he would only endure the hardships that lay ahead.

This glorious moment gave Jesus the boost he needed. He was more determined than ever to make the journey to Jerusalem. Without further delay, which the building of tents would have caused (Mk 9:5), he descended the mountain, and encouraged by his Transfiguration, even though he knew that untold torment and affliction were in his future, after having basked in glory only briefly, he could see that the Son of Man would also rise from the dead (Mk 9:9b).

The Father gave the Son a glorious moment to help him persevere, to let him know that there would be a glorious reward on the other side of his trials and tribulations. The Basilica of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor in Israel commemorates this event, and there is a beautiful mosaic in the dome of the apse above the high altar that depicts Jesus in radiant glory.

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Prayer for the Sacred Paschal Triduum

April 7, 2017

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Resurrection

The three days of the Sacred Paschal Triduum are the three holiest days of the year:  Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter.  They celebrate the Paschal Mystery of our Lord Jesus Christ, the central mysteries of our faith, both the Passion, his suffering and death, and the Resurrection, his glorious triumph over sin and the grave.

Every day is a day for prayer, but the Triduum stands above all other days as three special days for prayer.  It is a time to enter these profound mysteries.  There are two principle ways to pray during this time, communal liturgical prayer at church and personal private prayer, and both are highly recommended.

There are three sacred liturgies over these days:  the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening, the Passion of our Lord on Good Friday, and the Resurrection of the Lord, first celebrated at the Easter Vigil and then also at the Masses on Easter Sunday morning.  If there ever was a time to go to church to pray, it is on these three days.  It is extremely important to make prayerful participation in these liturgies a top spiritual priority.

The other indispensable way to pray during these three days is personal private prayer.  Our lives are so hectic.  There are so many things to do and so many places to go.  And our lives are so noisy.  We talk, talk, talk, and the noise is amplified by television, radio, and all sorts of music media.  If there ever was a time to be silent and still, it is on these three days.   Turn off the TV or radio.  Set the gadgets aside.  Reserve the time.  Find a quiet place.  Center yourself.  Focus on God and listen, listen, listen.

There are a number of other special ways to prayerfully participate in the Triduum.  On Holy Thursday, at the conclusion of Mass, the Blessed Sacrament is carried in procession through the church and then transferred to another place where it is reposed, so one option is to spend a period of time in silent adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.  During the Last Supper Jesus gave his final words of instruction to his disciples, so it would be timely to reflect upon his Last Supper Discourse, John 13:31 to 16:33.  After teaching the disciples, Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and prayed, so it would be an opportune time to ponder the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus, John 17:1-26.  After the Last Supper Jesus went to Gethsemane, so it would be appropriate to pray the First Sorrowful Mystery, the Agony in the Garden.  Finally, mindful of the footwashing, it is the perfect day to pray about God’s call to humble service.

Good Friday is a solemn and somber day.  Fasting and abstinence set a prayerful tone.  The scourging at the pillar and the crowning of thorns took place on Good Friday morning, so it would be good to pray the Second and Third Sorrowful Mysteries.  Jesus hung upon the Cross for three hours, so an extended period of silent prayer between 12:00 noon and 3:00 p.m. is an excellent option.  During these three hours, or at any time on Good Friday, special ways to pray include reading the Passion, John 18:1-19:42; the completion of the Sorrowful Mysteries; the Stations of the Cross; a prayerful reading of the Suffering Servant Canticles (Is 42:1-4; 49:1-7; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12) or the seven Penitential Psalms (Ps 6; 32; 38; 51; 102, 130; 143); and to offer prayer for the Church, the world, and all those in need.  It is an ideal time to pray with a Cross, either before a crucifix or to take one in hand, to venerate it, and to gaze upon Jesus’ crucified body and to ponder the meaning of his redemptive suffering and death.

Holy Saturday is a day to keep vigil.  As Mary Magdalene kept watch at the tomb in somber silence, it is a time to remain subdued, observe the Triduum fast, and make preparation to celebrate the greatest feast of our faith, the Resurrection of the Lord.

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The meaning of the season of Lent

March 10, 2017

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GoodFriday

There are four general Prefaces in the Roman Missal for the Season of Lent, and these texts are not only spoken liturgical prayers, they also serve as texts for personal prayer and meditation, and they express the spiritual purpose and importance of the season.

Preface I of Lent explains the meaning of the season.  It begins by noting that Lent is God’s gracious gift to us each year.  Lent is not monthly, quarterly, biannually, or every five years, but once a year.  God gives us the season of Lent for our own spiritual good.  Sin is insidious.  New sins pop up.  We fall deeper into the rut of old habitual sins.  Laxity creeps in.  God knows that we need to set aside time each year to reexamine our lives, face our shortcomings, renounce our evildoing, admit instances when we should have done good and failed to do so, repent, be cleansed, and start anew.

Lent is the time that God’s faithful await the sacred paschal feasts.  It is a forty day journey of preparation for the three holiest days of the Church year, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter, all three woven together into the Sacred Paschal Triduum.

The goal is for each believer to be able to celebrate the Triduum with joy, a genuine sense of inner peace and contentment that comes from being in right relationship with God and neighbor, loving others, speaking the truth, performing good deeds, and observing the commandments.  Joy is the result of minds made pure.  Our minds are impure when we think about bad things like how to get back at someone, how to get away with something without being caught, or how to treat ourselves to something that is harmful, and then to desire the bad thing for ourselves and devise a plan for how to get it.  Lent is a time to cleanse our minds of all mental impurities and to desire what is good and wholesome, and for our desires to conform with the gospel and God’s will.  A pure mind is the path to true joy, and a joyful heart is the ideal spiritual disposition for the celebration of the Sacred Paschal Triduum.

Lent is a season to be more eagerly intent on prayer and works of charity.  To be eagerly intent is to strongly want something, to recognize it as worthwhile, and to pursue it with excitement and energy.  It is a time of intensification.  Presumably prayer is already a part of our spiritual lives.  Lent is a time to improve the quality or the quantity of our prayer.  Presumably we already perform good deeds.  Lent is a time for additional or new acts of kindness.

During Lent we participate in the mysteries by which we are reborn.  Each Christian is born of flesh, and reborn of water and spirit (see Jn 3:5,6).  Lent features conversion, a stronger belief in Jesus as Messiah and Lord, he who is the resurrection and the life (Jn 11:25); the mystery of the Cross, how Jesus as our Savior and Redeemer washes away our sins with the blood that he shed and gives us new life in his grace; and forgiveness, how Jesus is compassionate and merciful and grants pardon and peace to the sinner.  Lent looks ahead to Holy Thursday, the Eucharist and how Jesus lives within those who receive his Body and Blood (Jn 6:53-58); Good Friday, and how Jesus’s death on the Cross leads to salvation and eternal life; and Easter, how in the waters of Baptism each believer dies to sin and is reborn in the fullness of God’s grace.  It is through Baptism, the featured sacrament of Easter, that we become members of the Body of Christ, and God claims us as his sons and daughters.

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A fresh approach to self denial and good works

March 3, 2017

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FourPillarsPen

This Lent don’t be stuck in a rut.  “Same old, same old” – is old.  If nothing changes, nothing changes!  The same old routine yields the same old results.  If we want things to be different (i.e., better), we must do things differently.  Except different requires change, and change requires effort, and change can be uncomfortable.  Fear and laziness are the two biggest obstacles.  Don’t be afraid.  Give a little extra effort.  Keep what works but add or substitute something new.  A fresh approach can be invigorating.

Consider a two part-plan for starters.  Part One:  Give something up for Lent!  About this time of year I brace myself for my one big pre-Lent pet peeve.  As Ash Wednesday approaches it is a strange annual phenomenon, but several people will whisper their little secret to me:  “Father, I’m not going to give up anything for Lent this year.  All of this denial stuff is too negative.”  And then proudly declare, “I am only going to do something positive this Lent.”  It is not nice to say in reply, “Bad plan,” but it is misguided. Lent is a penitential season, and self-denial is an indispensable penitential practice.

The “negative” part of Lent is the focus on sin.  It is not very “positive” to pay attention to our evildoing, but we must.  Jesus said “Repent” in his opening statement in Mark’s gospel (Mk 1:15).  “Repent, and believe in the gospel” is the formula for the signing with ashes.  Repent means “Quit sinning,” “Be sorry for sin,” and “Change for the better.”  It takes tremendous self-control and self-denial to stop sinning.  We may not like self-denial, but Jesus demands it:  “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself” (Mk 8:34).

Self-denial is extremely beneficial because it teaches self-mastery and builds strength to battle temptation.  It is relatively easy to give up a little pleasure.  Select something different to give up this year.  It could be sweet rolls, cookies, popcorn at bedtime, or a favorite TV program.  We all have something we really like that we really do not need.  Make a firm resolution to give it up for forty days, no exceptions.  Our desires should not control us, God should.  If the item is a sweet roll, when it comes to mind, it is a moment to be mindful of God because our goal to please God is the motivation behind our self-denial.  And we need to practice saying, “No!”  As we get better and better at refusing the sweet roll time after time throughout the day, we gain spiritual mastery over our preferences, particularly our sinful ones, and we become increasingly adept at saying no when temptation comes knocking.

Part Two:  Do something positive for Lent!  The person who only wanted to do something positive had a good idea, but it was incomplete.  A balanced approach is both negative and positive; we should give something up and do good works.

When it comes to good works, try to be sneaky and invisible!  In the gospel for Ash Wednesday Jesus tells us, “Be on guard against performing religious acts for people to see” (Mt 6:1).  Jesus wants us to be invisible.  Jesus also advises, “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Mt 6:3). He wants us to be sneaky – in a good sense!  The purpose of our good works should not be to gain the admiration or thanks of others.  If our good works are “sneaky,” they will be a pleasant surprise to someone, and if they are “invisible,” the person will have no idea who did it and be unable to offer a complement, sing our praises, or return the favor.  Surprise blessings of unknown origin are gifts from God.  When we are sneaky and invisible we are like angels, God’s messengers bringing God’s blessings.

It is like Secret Santa for Lent.  Leave an encouraging note in someone’s cube at work.  Put a candy bar on someone’s desk or a little gift in someone’s mailbox.  Let someone else go first.  Anonymously pay for the meal of someone at another table.  The possibilities are endless.  Be creative in finding new ways to be kind to others, and be so clever as to go unnoticed.  Then, to God goes the glory!

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St. Edward fish fry raises funds for youth group trip

March 17, 2016

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St. Edward’s youth served up a plate of two piping hot deep-fried fish portions, together with crinkle cut fries, a simple salad, cole slaw, and dessert and a beverage. Creamy Mac and Cheese was available as a sub for the non-fishmongers among us, but better yet, they brought out the malt vinegar, a staple for the fish and chips purists among us. Courtesy Fish Daddy

Catholic Hotdish offers another review from Fish Daddy, who visits some of the hot spots in the Twin Cities for Lenten fish fries. He’s looking at more than the fish — it’s the fellowship, the friendliness and faith that makes this Catholic Lenten tradition shine.

Nestled in a quiet neighborhood in Bloomington is St. Edward’s. They don’t pull out the deep fryers every week in Lent like some of the previous parishes Fish Daddy visited. In fact, if you’re looking for a recommendation to visit St. Edward’s Fish Fry, you’ll actually have to wait until next year. But the event raised awareness and funds for a unique summer experience for the active St. Edward’s youth group.

Fish

St. Edward’s youth served up a plate of two piping hot deep-fried fish portions, together with crinkle cut fries, a simple salad, cole slaw, and dessert and a beverage. Creamy Mac and Cheese was available as a sub for the non-fishmongers among us, but better yet, they brought out the malt vinegar, a staple for the fish and chips purists among us. (2 fish)

Service

A hearty welcome at the entrance table, along with plenty of table service here, from the coffee and beverage refillers to the plate clearers. And St. Ed’s also had a nice guitar accompaniment with dinner, compliments of the youth group. And if you feel the need to sneak back for that second cookie or delicious slice of cake at the dessert table, you weren’t the only one. (3 fish)

Fishers of people

There are plenty of Lenten offerings at the church of St. Edward’s, from the post-food Stations of the Cross, to rosaries on Monday evenings and Potluck and Palm Braiding on Wednesday March 16. Visit their website to find out what’s going on for Holy Week, too.

The St. Edward’s youth group was well on their way to raising funds for their trip to Heifer Ranch in Perrysville, Arkansas. There, they will learn about sustainable solutions for hunger, poverty, and the environment. (3 fish)

Value

$35/family; $12 per person. Under 7 free. The family rate has put the smallest dent in Fish Daddy’s family wallet this Fish Fry Lent, but a repeat performance here won’t come until 2017. Be sure to check the listings at http://www.thcatholicspirit.com early in Lent to make sure you don’t miss out on that once-a-Lent fish fry. (3 fish)

St. Edward’s 9401 Nesbitt Ave S., Bloomington 952-835-7101. http://stedwardschurch.org

Want Fish Daddy to visit your parish? E-mail CatholicSpirit@archspm.org.

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