Category Archives: Lent

Inspiration from St. Teresa of Calcutta

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Life

“Surrender is true love.  The more we surrender, the more we love God and souls.”

These words of St. Teresa of Calcutta are good for us to take to heart as we begin Holy Week.  These next few days leading to the Sacred Triduum can be a good opportunity to take a few moments of silence each day and meditate on this quote of Mother Teresa.  What does it mean to surrender?  In very simple terms, it is to turn ourselves towards God and choose to follow Him, as we ask Him for the graces needed to follow Him and to desire His will in our lives.

A simple way to begin: Take 3-5 minutes daily to be in silence with the Lord.  Let Him speak to you.  You may begin your silence with these words: “Lord, I love you and adore you.  Fill my heart with your love.”

Feast Day: September 5

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Inspiration from St. Bridget of Sweden

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As we approach Holy Week during this Season of Lent, we are reminded of the Passion of Christ: what Christ went through from the time of His last Passover Meal (the Last Supper), the time in the Garden of Gethsemane, His trial, leading to the Crucifixion.

St. Bridget, born in Sweden, had visions of Christ crucified since the age of 7.  These led her to a deep love for Jesus, resulting in a life of prayer and service.  After her husband’s death, she lived a strict life of a penance, giving her land and buildings to found monasteries for men and women.  This group became known as the Order of the Bridgetines, which are still in existence today.

She made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where she visited the holy sites related to the Lord’s Passion in Jerusalem.

St. Bridget’s visions of the Lord’s Passion have been compiled; one of the prayers given to her by the Lord is that of the “Fifteen Prayers.”

The Church celebrates her feast day on July 23.

Action: As you approach Holy Week, read the New Testament scriptures related to the Lord’s Passion.  Imagine yourself there in the Garden of Gethsemane, in Jerusalem, throughout His Passion, and think about what you are feeling and thinking.  This meditation may lead you to a deeper experience of Holy Thursday and Good Friday.

St. Peter, Judas and You: A Lenten Reality Check

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Pope Saint John Paul II said, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures, we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son Jesus.”

Those consoling words should inspire us to lift the burden of salvation off of our shoulders and place it instead where it belongs; on God’s love for us. Our Lord Jesus tells us the same when He says, “Come to Me all you who are burdened and I will give you rest,” (Mat 11:28.)

During this Lenten season, as we draw closer to Easter and our Lord’s Passion, I have been thinking about this quote from the late great pope and about two people in the life of Jesus: St. Peter and Judas.

I find it intriguing that the one who Jesus accused of being an obstacle to Him (Mat 16:23,) received the keys to His Kingdom while the one Jesus called friend, (Mat 26:50) took his own life.

This all says more about Peter and Judas, and subsequently each one of us, than it does about Jesus, who being God, remains as is written in Hebrews 13:8, “The same yesterday, today and tomorrow.”

Why such opposite outcomes for Peter and Judas?

Why did Peter, who continued to stumble by denying our Lord three times, go on to lead Jesus’ disciples, becoming the first pope? Why did Judas’ life end so bleakly?

Pope Saint John Paul II answers when he says the response to our Father’s love resides in, “our real capacity to become the image of His Son Jesus.”

Capacity is defined as, “the ability to receive.” Real capacity, then, is the ability to receive reality; to receive Truth.

Jesus told Peter the truth of who he was: the keeper of the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven (Mat 16:19) and the rock on whom He would build His Church, (Mat 16:18) despite his weaknesses and failures. Peter chose to believe the Word, receive His love from the Father, which is the Holy Spirit, and act in His Power, His Mercy and His Love by repenting and accepting God’s forgiveness.

Jesus gave Judas the truth of who he was regardless of his weakness and failures. How merciful God is to respond to this bitter kiss, even as forces descend to lay their hands upon Him, by reminding Judas of who he was chosen to be: Jesus’ apostle and friend. Judas responds by refusing to receive God’s reality; turning from His offer of forgiveness and instead choosing to be his own judge, jury and executioner.

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“The Kiss of Judas” by Giotto

How about you?  Do you believe God’s Mercy and Love is for you?

When I am tempted to think like Judas, I like to recall the story of our first pope’s last earthly encounter with Jesus.

As St. Peter fled Roman persecution, he met Jesus on the Appian Way. “Lord, where are you going?” he asked to which the resurrected Jesus responded, “I go to Rome to be crucified again.”  Very ashamed that he once again failed to image Jesus, St. Peter turned back to follow His Lord, this time ending up with Him in Eternity. The Church of Domine Quo Vadis (“Lord, where are you going?”) has been built on the very spot of this encounter.

The ability to receive God’s Love and Mercy is always offered to us. If you fail in a real capacity to image Jesus, then receive Him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  If you find it difficult to look beyond your weaknesses and faults, then spend time with our Lord in an Adoration chapel and ask Him how He sees you. I promise, you will be joyfully surprised!

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Annibale Carracci’s 1602 painting “Peter’s Meeting with Christ”

Not sure where to start? The Pilgrim Center of Hope answers Christ’s call by guiding people to encounter Him through pilgrimages (including Rome!) and conferences. We can help you.  Our life is a journey and we are here to join you wherever you are on this path to Eternity. Contact us at PilgrimCenterofHope.org, call us at 210-521-3377 or visit us at 7680 Joe Newton St., San Antonio, TX 78251.

Lent & Low Self-Esteem

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Do you find it hard to accept gifts or compliments? There have been times when I have been given a compliment, and say “thank you”. Meanwhile, I am thinking “I wish I believed that were true.” Why is it so hard to acknowledge that God made no mistake in how he created each one of us? On the other end, why is it so hard to acknowledge our sins or weakness and allow God to aid us on our journey?

Throughout the past weeks, I have heard the question “What are you giving up for Lent?”. This year, the answer to that question has not been so clear for me. Not because I am so holy that I have nothing to work on, but because there is so much that I do not know where to start! Some would call this “Catholic guilt”. I call it “Catholic remodeling”. I realize that Our Lord loves me so much that he has placed a season of time each year for me to better myself.

I recently came across a very helpful article on 10 Things to Remember for Lent by Bishop David L. Ricken. Number 5 was very instrumental in helping me decide what to “give up” for Lent.

5. It’s about dying to yourself. The more serious side of Lenten discipline is that it’s about more than self-control – it’s about finding aspects of yourself that are less than Christ-like and letting them die. The suffering and death of Christ are foremost on our minds during Lent, and we join in these mysteries by suffering, dying with Christ and being resurrected in a purified form.  

This has helped me see that in remodeling myself – yes, it is hard to knock walls down that have taken a long time to build up, especially if they make me feel safe or secure, but that the new layout of my spiritual home will allow me to function according to who I am today. And instead of staying focused on my failings, I can now see how strong I have become to have overcome so much.

It is important to make time for spiritual remodeling throughout the year, not just during Lent. Conferences and retreats are the quickest ways to upgrade your spirituality to aid you in your journey of faith. No matter how many times you attend, there is always a message that God has prepared just for you.

Come experience one of our annual conferences for men, women, and seniors. Our Ministry of Conferences presents opportunities for you to encounter Christ in a personal way.

 

 

Why Ashes?

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More people enter Catholic Churches throughout the world on Ash Wednesday than any other day of the year even though it is not one of the days that we are obliged to worship. The ashes are meant to be a sign that we have committed our life to Christ and we want to be a witness to that reality.

One of the phrases that the minister says as he traces the sign of the cross on the forehead is, “Repent and believe in the Gospel”. This of course is a call to conversion which the Bishops of the United States define as the following: “Conversion is the change of our lives which comes about through the power of the Holy Spirit. All who accept the Gospel undergo change as we continually put on the mind of Christ by rejecting sin and becoming more faithful disciples in his Church. Unless we undergo conversion, we have not truly accepted the Gospel.”

That is the real purpose for the ashes; they are a sign that we are going to take our Lenten journey serious and refocus on the real purpose of our time on this earth. The Gospel highlights three areas that are especially important for our journey; Prayer, fasting and almsgiving. As Jesus points out, the intensions of our heart is what gives merit to whatever we do. He points out the difference between hypocrisy and sincerity.

This brings us back to the necessity on conversion. There are somethings that our faith requires of us that we will only be able to do if it is our desire to undergo conversion; to turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel. When we are ready to say with all sincerity, “Lord I surrender myself to you, I desire to serve you,” we begin.

The Lord will give us the grace to do the things we could not do on our own. Is there someone you cannot forgive? He will give you the grace to forgive. Have you been selfish? He will help you to be generous. Do you sincerely want to follow Him? He will give you the grace to be faithful to what he has revealed to us through the Church and the Scriptures.

Should someone ask why we are wearing ashes on our forehead, we can say, “Because I realize that I need to repent and believe in the Gospel so that I can be a faithful disciple of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Increase your relationship with Jesus this Lent by attending or encouraging men to go to the annual Catholic Men’s Conference on March 18th. This event encourages men from all walks of life to encounter Christ and fulfill the plan that God has for their life. He calls us all by name to open our eyes to the goodness of the Lord.

Your Name Here…”Do You Love Me?”

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“Do not forget: In front of us, there is no sin, just the repentant sinner, a person who feels the desire to be accepted and forgiven.” Pope Francis to the ‘Missionaries of Mercy’

I will be honest, for a long time I did not understand when Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” (Mk 12:31) because for a long time, I hated myself. It made no sense to me because I thought either Jesus wanted me to hate my neighbor or the second greatest commandment did not apply to me.

Thanks to many people, conference experiences, a pilgrimage and much grace, our Lord has convinced me that He totally loves me!

What finally convinced me of this reality was when I visited the Holy Land with the Pilgrim Center of Hope. One day, we sailed on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus chose His Twelve Apostles. We walked along the shore and came to the place Jesus sat and asked Peter three times, “Peter, do you love Me?” (Jn 21:15-19)

At that spot, there are three heart-shaped stones leading from the shore and ‘out to the nations’ reminding us that with every, “Yes, Lord you know that I love you,” confessed by Peter, Jesus told His friend and denier, “Feed My sheep.” Our Lord’s decision to build His Church upon the rock of Peter had not changed despite the reality that this ‘rock’ denied our Lord three times.

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Photo of the 3 heart-shaped stones located along the Sea of Galilee outside the Primacy of Peter chapel, custody of the Franciscans.

What Peter discovered that day was Mercy.

Mercy is defined as compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.

For many of us, if not all of us, the hardest one we find to be compassionate towards and to forgive is ourselves. This is why looking at Peter’s ‘conviction’ is such a great help in understanding how God teaches us to approach Him in our sinfulness.

When we go to confession in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we are not going just to face God’s justice; though we will face Him in ‘Persona Christi’ through the priest. We are not going so we can tell our sins to a priest, though that is certainly part of it. We go because we understand that we are not able to save ourselves. We need grace, and our faith teaches that the Sacrament of Reconciliation provides special graces not at our disposal outside the Sacrament and this grace washes us clean and gives us the armor to fight future sinning.

There is a final reason and the verb we use is so telling. We ‘visit’ the Sacrament of Reconciliation so that we can sit with Jesus, one-on-one, and tell Him we love Him, exactly how Peter did.

Christian ‘conviction’ is when a sinner stands guilty before God, knows he cannot save himself and that He is totally loved. It is this last part that we need to embrace.

For many Catholics, including myself, it is very difficult to kneel in the confessional and confess our sins. But if we can view the encounter as our way of loving, praising and thanking Jesus who took the punishment for us, it may help us to see the Sacrament of Reconciliation for what it is: an encounter with Mercy.

During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has commissioned thousands of priests to be ‘missionaries of mercy.’ In the February 21st edition of The National Catholic Register, journalist Father Raymond J. DeSouza reporting on their commissioning ceremony at the Vatican writes,

“We often have the pious thoughts that we leave our sins in the confessional, but the truth is that we don’t carry them into the confessional in the first place. It is not sin itself that presents itself to Jesus in the person of the confessor. Sin cannot stand in God’s presence. Rather, it is the repentant sinner, a person in the image and likeness of God who comes before Christ in the person of the priest. The reality is that the penitent, even if burdened by shame, is already close to God simply by coming to confession, for the person desiring to be close to God can be confident of God’s closeness.”

When Jesus answered the question, “What is the greatest commandment,” with, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these,” (Mk 12:30-31) we can now better understand that to love our neighbor as our self, we must first love God through the reality of His Mercy.

Peter discovered this very thing that day on the shore of Galilee and this revelation of God’s unfathomable love gave him the confidence to lead the Catholic Church as our first pope.

Let Peter’s confidence in God’s love inspire us to take advantage of this rich treasure of Mercy instead of dreading it. We are obligated to receive this Sacrament once a year, but why not ‘visit’ monthly so you can spend time with our Lord telling Him how much you love Him?!

During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Archdiocese of San Antonio is offering more opportunities to encounter Mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If the idea of walking where Jesus walked intrigues you, consider a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Visit pilgrimcenterofhope.org and discover the many pilgrimage opportunities available.

Our Weakness. His Strength.

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Our Weakness. His Strength.

Throughout salvation history, God has chosen to accomplish great things through men and women whom he calls into his service beginning with Abraham. In today’s first reading God calls Moses to lead the Chosen people out of their slavery in Egypt. To get Moses’ attention God speaks from a burning bush and reveals his name as “I am who am.” Moses is speaking with the Almighty, He who is without beginning or end and he must take off his shoes in His presence.

Weakness

In the next chapter of Exodus, we will see that even though Moses has heard the voice of God and is given miraculous powers, he still doubts his ability to carry out the mission God has given him. He was focused on his own weakness instead of the power of God.
Especially, in matters of faith, we can be like that.

In baptism, we received the gifts of faith, hope and charity as well as the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In baptism, we all start out equal as children of God. We become members of His body, which is the Church, and in this Church we have every means to grow in our faith and discover the gifts that God has given us. Which will be necessary for our vocation and for the building up of the Body of Christ. God expects that the gifts He has given us will bear fruit, but we can stifle those gifts by just living for ourselves and whatever makes us comfortable.

Planted

This brings us to the Gospel and the parable of the fig tree. The purpose of the fig tree is to bear fruit. The owner of the tree wants to cut it down because it does not produce fruit, but the vine dresser asks for more time to cultivate the tree hoping that it will produce fruit. Jesus is the patient vine dresser and we all are fig trees in this parable. In baptism, we are planted in the kingdom of God through water and the Holy Spirit. We receive equally everything we need to come into full maturity and produce fruit according to God’s plan for us. Through the Eucharist and Confirmation, we receive nourishment to sustain us. We are pruned through the sacrament of reconciliation and the sacrifices and reparations that make up our life’s experiences.

Nourished

No matter what our career is, our most important purpose is to produce fruit for the kingdom of God and for this we all have an equal opportunity. Our fruitfulness depends upon our own desire to be faithful to what God has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church. We cannot produce fruit on our own; we must be connected to God. By having a personal relationship with Him by daily prayer, reading the Scriptures and the lives of the saints, living the sacramental life, and being involved in our faith community.

Fruitful

This is where we discover and use the gifts God has given us and by continuing to be formed in the faith. When we live our lives close to God in this way, we become witnesses of His presence so that others might come to believe in Him. God’s only plan for the salvation of the world is that those who believe in Him will live and share their faith, so that others will come to believe in Him.

Like Moses, we may not feel adequate to play a role in God’s plan of salvation, but like Moses we must say yes anyway, take our eyes off ourselves, keep focused on God and allow him to work through us. It is only in God that we will find the strength we need to carry us through the painful circumstances of our lives and the grace that will enable us to make the difficult choices we know we must make.

This is when our faith truly bears fruit, so that we can experience the peace and hope that only Christ can give! Are you seeking to learn more and grow in your faith? Tune in to Catholicism Live to hear more on Wednesday evenings from 8-9pm on CTSA Channel 15 and on the Guadalupe Radio Network 89.7 FM or grnonline.com! More information can also be found on our website. PilgrimCenterOfHope.org

Why Fast?

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Every Lent, there is a focus on prayer, almsgiving, and fasting. Prayer and generosity should be part of our daily routine if we take our faith seriously, but there seems to be less emphasis on fasting. Except for the hour fast before receiving the Holy Eucharist, fasting is almost never mentioned unless in relationship with Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Why is fasting important? However in both the Old and New Testaments, the importance of fasting is very significant especially prayer and fasting together. They, along with sacrifice, were the necessary means of conversion through which individuals and cities were saved.

Take Control

When we think of fasting we often think of food which is the most common application. However, in addition to Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, fasting and abstinence can take many forms. We can fast from TV, excessive computer time, or anything we enjoy that begins to take up too much of our time. The idea is that we must take control of our senses, appetites, and passions, so that they do not become addictive or begin to dominate our lives.

Cooperation

Jesus said that if we are to be his disciples we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. If we are not able to deny ourselves of things that we realize are becoming excessive, we will not be able to carry the crosses, which are a necessary part of our lives. Jesus wants to help us carry our crosses, but he needs our cooperation.

Evaluate

This season of Lent is a time for us to evaluate our relationship with Jesus Christ, who is the source of all that is good and all that we need. All of us can make some improvement if that is the desire of our heart. Spend some time with Jesus in his Eucharistic presence, and ask him to reveal to you an area where you need change if you seek to grow spiritually. Then, ask him for the grace to make the change. We can only reach our potential for happiness by overcoming our selfishness and drawing close to Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Want to learn more about the Catholic faith? Would you like to know more about Jesus? Join us on Catholic Television of San Antonio and Guadalupe Radio Network each week on our series – Catholicism Live! every Wednesday from 8:00pm – 9:00pm (CST). You can tune in online from anywhere in the world at www.catholicismlive.com. Check out the various episodes on this website.

“Faith is a gift – believing is a choice!”

Facing Difficulties – Lessons from St. Patrick and the Irish

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StPatrickIreland’s greatest saint is remembered March 17, which falls during Lent, and while most Americans might shrug at this and chug their green beers, Paddy is actually more closely connected to fasting and penance than to feasting and beer.

St. Patrick, determined to evangelize the Irish, was at first unsuccessful at preaching. Legend tells us that when he preached about Hell and Purgatory, no one would believe him — UNLESS! — a man could go there, live, and come back to tell them. (Sounds outrageous until you consider that these were Irish folk, and if I know anything about my Irish family members, it’s that we live for a good story.)

St. Patrick became furious at their lack of faith. It’s said Christ led Patrick to a cave, where he saw visions of Hell and Purgatory. One story leads to another, and it’s said a man was lowered into the cave, experienced Purgatory, and ‘lived to tell’.

Owain’s World

We learn more from the story of Sir Owain, or Knight Owain, whose journey through the famous cave is re-told in Tractatus de Purga-torio Sancti Patricii (Treatise on St. Patrick’s Purgatory). This Treatise is clearly the product of Irish didactic storytelling. From it, we can glean a few gems to help us with our trials here on earth:

What We Should Think

As Owain enters the cave, monks advise him that although the road ahead is treacherous, he can survive by thinking about one thing: “Hold God in your heart, and think upon the Passion that he suffered on the cross for you.”

This advice has been passed down to us from the apostles and saints through the centuries, but we seem to meditate on Jesus’ Passion only during Lent. Why? Perhaps we’re too caught up in our search for comfort and pleasure, as if these would solve our problems. But only through meditation on God’s ultimate sacrifice, on Christ’s love-above-all-love for us, can we rise above our trials.

What We Should Speak

Depiction of Christ's Temptation, from the Celtic "Book of Kells" (ca. 800 AD)

Depiction of Christ’s Temptation, from the Celtic “Book of Kells” (ca. 800 AD)

Owain is also advised: “Use God’s exalted name and the fiends can do you no harm.” Scripture tells us that at the name of Jesus, “every knee shall bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth…”

Owain learns the power of Jesus’ name as fiends tie him up to be burned, but he “called out to Our Lord and at once the fire disappeared and not so much as a coal or a spark remained.” Soon, he realizes that whenever he speaks Jesus’ name, or thinks about His love, the fiends are rendered powerless. This holds true for us, too. Demons may seem frightening, but what is actually frightful is that they are so weak(!), and we can only be damaged when we give in to their weakness. Rather, strength comes from humility; when we rely on God. So in our trials, we should pray in Jesus’ name for protection.

What We Should Ignore

As Owain walks along, he sees people undergoing unthinkable sufferings, which correspond to their sinful attachments on earth. Each time he observes one of these horrors, Owain hears demons cry out to him, variations of this message: ‘You are such a terrible sinner! Look at what penance you’ll have to endure! But you don’t have to endure suffering! We’ll take you to be our friend, and where there are comforts!’

Owain simply ignores the demons and continues forward. What a simple, yet profound, lesson! Jesus teaches us this lesson; during his temptations, he rebukes Satan with the words of Scripture. We ought never to believe our tempters, because they serve the Father of Lies. Rather, we should ignore them and continue on our journey, trusting in God.

St. Patrick and Almighty God

I hope you’ve enjoyed this bit o’ Irish lore; filled with timeless truths. As we remember St. Patrick, let’s remember this great saint — great because he knew these truths, and thus knew the power of God’s mighty love. Here’s a link to the prayer St. Paddy is said to have prayed daily: Lorica (Chainmail Armor) of Saint Patrick.

“So I’ll never stop giving thanks to my God, who kept me faithful in the time of my temptation. […] He is the one who defended me in all my difficulties.” – St. Patrick of Ireland (from his Confession)

Coming Up: Lent

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For as long as I can remember, Lent has always seemed like the most spiritual of all the liturgical seasons. Not that the Jesus of Christmas, Easter and Advent is any less bonafide and worthy of devotion, but he shares the spotlight with Hallmark, Mars Candy, and Williams Sonoma’s Hand-Buttered Very Madea Christmurs DVDs.

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For some reason, no one has really broken into the Lenten market with, say, brand name sackcloths.

All for the best, I suppose.

But even more than the lack of commercialization, there’s the intensity of a Lenten fast coupled with some pretty vivid rituals like the Stations of the Cross and veneration of the cross. We focus intently and squarely on Christ, on his pain, both his physical suffering and his sorrow. We foster sympathy for the God we worship.

Years ago, when I was still in college, I was waiting to meet my roommate for lunch. He was a semester-abroad student from Austria who had come here with the help of a scholarship. We were joining Fr. Franz Schorp, a Marianist priest and philosophy teacher at the university, who had provided the money for the scholarship himself.

As I was waiting outside the priests’ home, Fr. Schorp snuck up beside me and started, “You know, people like to cultivate their piety (and at this point, he began imitating a trembling old lady): ‘Oh sweet Jesus on the cross, have mercy on me…’ – but what about the Jesus that you encounter when you smack your head on a tree!”

I’d met Fr. Schorp a few months before, and if it wasn’t for that first meeting, I would have figured that senility had slightly grabbed ahold of him. The earlier impression he gave was of a warm, reflective, relaxed German (though he wasn’t) man who had never stopped thinking critically. With a memory as sharp as a whip, he recalled, if I remember right, studying under then-Professor Karol Wojtyla, and stealing his unfortunately illegible exam notes. So instead, I wondered what he meant. Here’s what, years later, I’ve come up with:

Heather King, writer extraordinaire and speaker at the 2013 Catholic Women’s Conference, recently wrote two blog posts with excerpts from and reflections on Fr. Patrick McNulty’s book, I Live, Not I. The title comes from St. Paul’s proclamation,

I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me. (Galatians 2:19-20)

Fr. McNulty writes,

We must not ask, ‘What would Jesus do?’ but rather, ‘Jesus, you experienced something like this in your own life–for different reasons than mine–so what kind of union with You are You calling me to right now through my humanity? What are You trying to teach me about You and Your relationship with Your Father right now in and through my flesh?

What I usually do when I’m hurt is figure out exactly who is to blame and how, then what I should do about it. But Fr. McNulty says that our response comes later – after we’ve opened ourselves to and sought out the Sacred Heart of Christ, who shares in our condition.

Christ experienced a life like our own, and by virtue of our unity with him initiated at baptism, everything including suffering becomes a vehicle for knowing him, as well as his (and our) relationship with the Father. When we suffer, we can say, Where is the Spirit of God in this? Christ experienced this pain before so how do I encounter him here? This is the road to a deeper unity with Christ: allowing him to draw us into his heart through our own pain, not to mention joys, thoughts, anxieties, affections…

Then we can offer our broken selves – with our longings, our shortcomings, our anxiety – to God, in union with Christ and with all people who suffer similarly. This not only cuts short our desire for self-pity, for vengeance, for being proven right;  it opens us up to the life of God. Whatsoever you did to the least of my people, you did it to me – it opens us up to our brothers, sisters, neighbors, too.

To be honest, I’m not sure how this relates to getting smacked by a tree branch, except that like the tension created by fasting, unexpected hurts can jolt us awake. Fr. McNulty might add that our unity with Christ makes us capable of a higher mind about life, and a larger heart, and I think that’s what Fr. Schorp was getting at too.

So couple that Lenten fasting and prayer with the traditional charitable giving, and you’ve got the basic ingredients of a successful penitential season. This Lent, when we give up whatever we give up, may it enable us to more deeply know and love Christ and other people. And when we stoop to kiss the crucifix, may our prayer, fasting and almsgiving ignite a heightened awareness of our Lord, who opens his heart to us in suffering, and brings his love to us with the goodness of his own body and blood.