Category Archives: Lent

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.

Palm Sunday: Christ’s love and our freedom

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"The Entry into Jerusalem" by Giotto (c. 1305)

“The Entry into Jerusalem” by Giotto (c. 1305)

This Sunday was Palm Sunday, the day we remember how Jesus was gloriously received as he entered Jerusalem amidst the shouts of “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” It was the only time that Jesus was received with great jubilation by the crowds as he entered Jerusalem.

However, we have just read the Passion of Christ, and we know that these same people who shouted, “Hosanna!” will also shout “Crucify him!” During the reading of the Passion we also shouted, “Crucify him!” and it is fitting that we did. It was our sins also that he bore on the way to Golgotha. He carried the weight of the sin of all humanity for all time with him to his death. He died for my sins and for yours so that we might be saved from eternal death.

"Ecce Homo" by Andrea Mantegna (1502)

“Ecce Homo” by Andrea Mantegna (1502)

Even though he died for all humanity, all humanity will not receive the same benefit from his death. He has entrusted his plan of salvation to his Church, expecting those who believe in him to be a light in the world, sharing the Good News of salvation with others so that they might believe in him and their lives be transformed by his grace. We each have a free will and we each must make the choice to turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.

Next weekend, during the Easter Vigil, there will be thousands of people received in the Church throughout the world. In a way, it will be a little like Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem as these people joyfully welcome Jesus into their minds, hearts and souls and the whole community will proclaim, “Alleluia!” as it was proclaimed for each one of us as we were baptized. During the Easter liturgy, we all will renew our baptismal vows together as a reminder of what Christ has done for us and of our need to put our total faith in him.

The reading of Christ’s Passion reminds us that our baptism is not only about the joy of welcoming Jesus Christ, it is about believing in him, trusting in him, and being faithful to what he has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church. Our purpose in this life is to know, love and serve God so that we can be happy now and forever. Jesus Christ shows us how to live our life close to God so that our faith will influence all the decisions we make. When we refuse to be faithful to Jesus Christ, we once again say, “Crucify him.

Why We Can’t Stay on the Mountaintop – Following and Resting in Jesus

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Depiction of the Transfiguration, inside Church of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor

Depiction of the Transfiguration, inside Church of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor

“Jesus took Peter, John and James and went up the mountain to pray.” In the Gospels there are several moments of significance when Jesus takes Peter, John and James to be alone with him. Here, on Mt. Tabor the three apostles will witness something that the other apostles did not. They will see Jesus glorified speaking with Moses and Elijah. Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the prophets. All that God had revealed to His Chosen People could be summed up in the Law and the Prophets. Now, Jesus is speaking with Moses and Elijah and he is above them; he is the fullness of God’s revelation, being God and man.

Mt. Tabor is unlike most of the mountains or hills in the region which are usually connected or part of a chain. Mt. Tabor is a mountain all by itself in the middle of several valleys, only a few miles from Nazareth and Cana. As a matter-of-fact, you can see Nazareth from the top of Mt. Tabor, which you reach by way of a zigzagging road which is too narrow for a bus.

Nowadays, when you arrive at the top, you see a beautiful church with three domes; the one in the center is larger and taller because it is over the altar dedicated to Jesus Christ. The one on the left is dedicated to Moses and the one on the right is dedicated to Elijah. These three domes were inspired by the words of Peter, “…let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For the moment, Peter was caught up in the ecstasy of that mountaintop experience and wanted to remain on the mountain.

Church of the Transfiguration atop Mt. Tabor

Church of the Transfiguration atop Mt. Tabor

However, if they would have remained on the mountain, they would have neglected their mission. It is a temptation for all of us to hope we will find a place where everything will be okay and we won’t have to be concerned with trials and difficulties. However, that was not real life for the Apostles and it is not real life for us. The Lord will continue to take us to places where we must depend upon him so that we can become spiritually mature and be filled with hope, even in the most difficult circumstance.

By his transfiguration, Jesus is preparing Peter, James and John for the scandal they will witness when he enters into his Passion. As they follow Jesus, there will be many things they will see and hear that will challenge their faith, so Jesus has given these three this glimpse of his glory to strengthen them.

We are beginning the second week of Lent. The purpose of this liturgical season of Lent is to renew the mission of Christ in our lives so that by cooperating with his grace, we will be reconciled to God and one another. It doesn’t happen automatically. We must make concrete choices. That is why we once again look at prayer, fasting and almsgiving as a means of surrendering our hearts to the Lord. If we do not take time to pray, if we are not generous with what we have, and if we allow our appetites to dominate us, we are far from the kingdom of God.

Jesus Christ is not just a God of miracles that we look to in our time of need, hoping he will fix everything for us. Sometimes he does that, but most of all he wants a personal relationship with us that draws us into intimate and fervent prayer, that leads us to trust him completely with every aspect of our lives. This trusting relationship will free us from anxious dependency on our own resources so that we will be generous with what we have, knowing that God cannot be outdone in generosity.

The most important thing we can do for ourselves and the people we love is to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus by being faithful to what he has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church. He is the one who brings peace and happiness into our lives, but on his terms because he knows what is best for us. If we do not look to God for direction as we make our plans, we are destined for unhappiness.

St. Augustine once said, “Our hearts are restless O’ Lord until they rest in you.” Lord, you have created us to be in relationship with you. There is no other way we can reach our potential for happiness. Give us the grace Lord to love you above everything else and our neighbor as our self so that we may be happy now and for all eternity. Let our prayer be, Lord I desire that my heart should rest in you.

What is strength?

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What is strength?

I was watching TV and observing how, as a culture, we glorify the macho/strong guy who doesn’t need anyone or anything – he is totally self-sufficient. I used to think I was supposed to be that way, too. I mean, I went to all the latest “self-help” seminars, had my affirmation tapes running in the car, kept my thoughts positive. That is, until my life fell apart and God brought me to my knees.

“I am at the end of my rope,” you have heard people say. Until then, we are often too confident, too self-reliant, too full of ourselves…too independent of God.

Howard E. Butt, Jr., vice chairman of the H. E. Butt (H-E-B) Grocery Company, puts it so well in his article, “The Art of Being a Big Shot:”

It is my pride that makes me independent of God. It’s appealing to me to feel that I am the master of my fate, that I run my own life, call my own shots, go it alone. But, that feeling is my basic dishonesty. I can’t go it alone. I have to get help from other people, and I can’t ultimately rely on myself. I’m dependent on God for my very next breath. It is dishonest of me to pretend that I’m anything but a man — small, weak, and limited. So, living independent of God is self-delusion.

muscle man

Now, in the process of becoming Catholic, I see things through new eyes. In studying the lives of the saints and observing individuals around me centered in the Faith, I have seen what STRENGTH really looks like. And it isn’t about me doing anything to build myself up, but rather about letting go of “me” and choosing to place my focus on the one source of all power, our Lord and Creator.

During this Lenten Season let’s seek ways to empty ourselves, to pour out the stagnant water from the jar, and make room for the living waters of the Christ at Easter to fill us and make us new.

The Gift of Silence Can be Sweet: Lent + Valentine’s Day

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This year, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day fall side by side; Valentine’s Day is the day after Lent. They are dissimilar – Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent and reminds us of penance, fasting and almsgiving; Valentine’s Day reminds us of lovers, sweets, flowers and feasting. The Lenten period of 40 days begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday, in preparation for the celebration of Easter. Valentine’s Day is well – one day.

Forty days is very symbolic in the Bible; here are a few references, although there are many others:

  • It rained 40 days and 40 nights during the Flood (Genesis 7: 4)
  • Noah waited 40 days after the waters receded and the Ark settled on Mount Ararat before he sent out the raven (Genesis 8: 3-8)
  • The Israelites spent 40 years “wandering” in the desert (Numbers 14: 33; Deuteronomy 29: 4)
  • Elijah fasted 40 days in the wilderness (1 Kings 19: 8)
  • Purification of Mary is 40 days after birth of Jesus (Luke 2: 22-4)
  • Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert after His baptism (Matthew 4: 1-2)

desertMy husband, Tom and I, had the opportunity to lead a pilgrimage to the Holy Land during Lent. Pilgrimages are journeys of faith, a time to think about God and experience the land He sanctified with His very life. Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert after His baptism in the desert near the River Jordan, a 10 minute bus ride to the vast Judean Desert. Our pilgrimage includes spending 40 minutes in this desert! Our bus driver leads us off the main highway into a gravel pathway leading to an area where he parks the bus, turns off the motor…and immediately one experiences the silence of the desert. As pilgrims get off the bus and walk up the hill, their breath it taken by the view of the vastness of the desert, and most especially the silence! They are asked to take this symbolic 40 minutes (remembering Jesus’ 40 days) and experience a time of prayer and total silence. For Tom and I, this time passes too quickly! The view of the desert, realizing Jesus was in that area and spending time just embracing the silence is an unforgettable moment! Numerous pilgrims have told us how much they appreciated this experience. One man in his 40’s said, “I have never experienced a silence like this, never!” Others have commented on how this experience of silence gave them a desire to include silence in their daily lives upon their return home.

How can we choose silence in today’s world filled with noise from television, radio, traffic, music, conversations? It’s possible – it’s a choice! Consider a time in your daily schedule when there is less noise. (Early morning? Late evening? Lunch period? When children are sleeping?) What do we benefit from silence? Personally I become more aware of God’s presence and I experience a peace.

Mother TeresaBlessed Mother Teresa explains it well in a way that is called the Simple Path:
The fruit of silence is PRAYER.
The fruit of prayer is FAITH.
The fruit of faith is LOVE.
The fruit of Love is SERVICE.
The fruit of service is PEACE.

What does silence have to do with Valentine’s Day? Spending time in silence with someone we love is a gift, perhaps greater than the best chocolates or beautiful flowers. A time when one appreciates the other and experiences the ‘inner beauty and sweetness’ of that person. My husband and I enjoy sitting in swinging bench in the yard and just enjoying being with each other without conversation or outside noise to distract our moment of silence with one another.

Consider giving the gift of silence to someone you love this Valentine’s Day. Begin the Lenten Season by planning time for silence.

“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.” – Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Why Catholics do weird things on Good Friday

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Someone’s question inspired me yesterday:
Why do we have the Passion Play? We don’t re-enact every bad event in history.” To that question I would also add, “Why do Catholics fast on Good Friday?

Do we have some sort of sick fascination with suffering and pain?

I acknowledge how strange it must seem: Someone volunteers to wear a crown of thorns and hardly a loincloth, walk through the street followed by a shouting crowd of people, carrying a heavy piece of wood, perhaps hit with cords or strips of leather, and then put up high where everyone can see…all while onlookers weep or cringe. Add to that the ache of a hungry belly and less energy from fasting. Why do it all?

How the Leaves Looked

Let me tell you a quick story to answer: When I first visited my husband’s hometown, we had been engaged for a few months. As a native Texan, this was my first time in California outside an airport. His mom picked us up and drove us to their home. She and Dan were talking up a storm, but I hardly said a word from the backseat.

Because I was busy. Everything about this place, I wanted to take in. My eyes were like two sponges packed into my head, soaking in the visual information as we sped past buildings, intersections, highway signs, trees, bicyclers, and the Bay.

We took the turn onto the street whose name I’d heard repeated so many times and had seen written on the corners of envelopes. Arriving to their home, I settled into my little guest room. “This used to be Daniel’s room,” his mom told me. I liked that.

As everyone was getting settled downstairs, I stayed in that room and sat on the bed studying the texture of the walls. Out my little window, a breeze caused the tree leaves to sway.

It may seem silly, but watching those leaves dance in the wind is probably one of my favorite memories from the entire trip – especially silly, maybe, considering the fact that we later spent several days in the mountains near a beautiful lake for a big wedding shower in our honor.

'Christ Carrying the Cross' by El Greco

What’s Love Got to Do with It?

But that’s what happens when you love someone; you want to know everything about them. You want to visit their hometown, eat their favorite foods, see their baby pictures, hear them recall their happy and somber memories. You want to experience their experiences as much as you can.

That’s what God did. God became human in the person of Jesus because he wants us to know that he loves us. He wants to show us that he’s experienced getting sand between his toes, enjoying a meal with friends, grieving the death of loved ones, earning an honest living, laughing until his side hurt…

…there was just this one thing: He is God. He can’t sin.

But that didn’t stop Jesus. He wanted to tell us, “I love you so much, that I want you to know I understand what sin feels like for you.”

Because of his love, Jesus did the unthinkable. He took on the effects of every sin that had ever been committed in the past and would ever be committed in the future. Jesus chose to take upon himself all the loneliness, the rejection, the betrayal, the anxiety, the emotional and physical agony which is the result of sin. Even death, and the cruelest method of torture and death in history. His love took him to the very lowest pit of despair – hell – to offer his love to the dead. “The gospel was preached even to the dead.” (1 Peter 4:6)

The Summit – and The Answer

Saint Paul reminded the early Hebrew Christian community that “since God’s children share in blood and flesh, [Jesus] likewise shared in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life” (Hebrews 2:14-15). In other words, God loves us so much that he wants to free us from sin and its terrible effects; he ‘paid’ the price of sin so that we wouldn’t have to. “For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people” (Heb 2:17).

“The Cross of Christ is the summit of love,” as Pope Benedict XVI has said. Why enact the Passion Play? Because it recalls and re-presents the summit of love. Jesus’ Passion gives us a model for our lives – a model of love. He told his followers before his Passion,

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).

Not only do Passion Plays and meditations on the Passion remind us of Jesus’ love for us; these practices – along with fasting – are our little ways of growing in relationship with Jesus. Because when you love someone, you want to know as much as you can about them and experience what they’ve experienced. These are our little ways of saying, “Jesus, I love you, and your suffering breaks my heart. How can I stand by and watch? I cannot bear to let you suffer alone. Let me feel what you have felt. Let me enter into the depths of your love and learn from you.”

Let’s remember that as we commemorate the Lord’s Passion today.