Ash Wednesday

On Ash Wednesday as we began Lent, many of us attended Mass or a Service of the Word where we were marked with blessed ashes. As we bore proudly those ashes on our foreheads, many of us may not have been aware of what they mean. Surely they are a reminder that we came from dust and unto dust, we shall return; most of us realize that they also hold the reminder to turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel. They also have a way of asking us what we will do for Lent; what we will give up for Lent; what we will offer up for Lent.

An obligation comes along with the blessing: an obligation to those who see us with the forehead ashes; an obligation to be faithful to the Gospel so that when others observe our actions they see the message of the Gospel; an obligation to be the Body of Christ in the world.

Our Ash Wednesday Gospel from Matthew includes a phrase we may miss if we aren’t careful: “…your Father who sees…” God is always looking at us with Love; sees us in Love; always, never looking away.

Whatever we decide to “do,” to “give up,” to “offer up,” for Lent, think not about trying to get God’s attention…we already have it. Look instead to what we can do to help us begin looking at God. However we decide to celebrate, our Lenten practices should be directed at fixing our eyes on God.

 

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Day by Day for the Holy Souls

Each morning I read a selection from a little book Day by Day for the Holy Souls by Susan Tassone. Each day contains a meditation and reflection from saints and theologians on the poor souls. This morning was a particularly difficult one as it featured St. Gertrude’s Heroic Act of Charity.

“O Holy and Adorable Trinity, desiring to cooperate in the deliverance of the souls in purgatory, I secede and renounce in behalf of the holy souls all the satisfactory value for all my works during life (and all the offerings made for me after my death) consigning them into the hands of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that she may apply them according to her good pleasure to the souls of the faithful departed, whom she desires to deliver from their sufferings. Deign, O my God, to accept and bless this offering I make to you at this moment. Amen.”

“St. Gertrude was tempted by the devil at the hour of death. Our Lord reminded her that she had offered all her merits for the dead. But not content with sending His angels and the thousands of souls she released to assist her, Our Lord said he would take her straight to Heaven and multiply a hundred-fold all her merits.”

Our Father, Who art in heaven

Our Father, Who art in heaven,

hallowed be Thy Name;

Thy kingdom come;

Thy Will be done

on earth as it is in Heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us.

and lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

Amen.  

When I realize again that this prayer is the perfect prayer given to us by Jesus, then the realization dawns again that it contains everything we need to say to the Father.

This morning my wife, Becky, reminded me of a homily we had heard at our son’s church during the summer. The priest said everyone has a cross to bear; some like styrofoam, others like lead. He said from the outside things may look normal but we can never know completely the heavy burden someone carries; our spouse, our child, our sibling, our friend, our neighbor, our fellow worker, etc.

As I read the Our Father again as I write this, I realize how many times I have judged someone’s actions based on my own cross; how many times I have sinned in thought and sometimes deed in anger against someone whose cross I do not understand.

When we examine our consciences and ask God for forgiveness, I think many times our unkind opinions of others do not come to mind as sin.

Dear God, give us the bread we need to answer your message to love when it is hardest for us. Forgive us those times we have selfishly forgotten that everyone has a cross and we have trespassed against them and You in thought and deed. Amen.

 

 

 

Psalm 46:11: “Be still and know that I am God”

This morning, the feast of the Holy Innocents, I read a meditation in The Word Among Us on the anger of King Herod when he believed his kingdom was threatened by the birth of a Little Child. We are all familiar with the Scripture account of the Magi meeting with King Herod and telling him of the birth of a King. King Herod became enraged and sought to kill anyone who would possibly threaten his throne. To ensure this child was eliminated, in his rage. he had all the boys two years old and under slaughtered. ANGER…an emotion that can overwhelm us if we let it. It can snowball out of control hurting anyone who gets in its way… This meditation was particularly apt for me because anger is a vice I have struggled with all my life. What I liked the most about this article were the practical steps suggested when anger arises.

  • Be attentive to what’s going on in your mind. As soon as you feel annoyance, ask God’s help to deal with it before it overflows.
  • Try to think of one positive quality about the person you’re angry with: put it in perspective.
  • Finally, pray for that person. It’s hard to stay angry with someone you’re lifting up to the Lord. It will help to see them from God’s perspective.

“Unchecked anger is destructive, but we don’t have to be controlled by it. God can help us break the cycle.” Wow! What a simple but effective way to not let anger control your life. My New Year’s Resolution is to keep these steps always in focus.

“Lord, help me not to let anger grow in my heart.”

We have Christ, who is our peace and our light

 

…if we look upon Christ as our sanctification, then we should keep ourselves free from all that is wicked and impure both in thought and in deed and so prove ourselves worthy to bear His Name, for we shall be demonstrating the effect of sanctification not in words but in our actions and in our lives…St. Gregory of Nyssa

When I read these words of St. Gregory in the Office of Readings this morning, I was reminded of the words that I have been using at the end of Mass: “Go in peace to spread the Gospel of the Lord.” I keep being reminded that the best way we can “spread the Gospel of the Lord” that is, to pass on the message of Jesus, is through how we live our lives – how we witness the Love of Jesus through our actions and deeds.

It might be a good time for each of us in this Ordinary Time to spend some time reflecting on what message indeed our lives are communicating to those who see us.

“What is Prayer?”

Psalm 24: “Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord?”

From A Catechism on Prayer by St. John Mary Vianney (1786-1859):

.…Prayer is nothing else than union with God. When the heart is pure and united with God, it is consoled and filled with sweetness; it is dazzled by marvelous light. In this intimate union, God and the soul are like two pieces of wax molded into one; they cannot anymore be separated. It is a wonderful thing, this union of God with his insignificant creature, a happiness passing all understanding…how often do we come to church without thinking what we are going to do or for what we are going to ask. And yet, when we go to visit someone, we have no difficulty remembering why it was we came. Some appear as they were about to say to God: “I am just going to say a couple of words, so I can get away quickly.” I often think, when we come to adore our Lord, we would get all we asked if we asked for it with a lively faith and a pure heart…

Receiving Fully The Holy Spirit

When I was from the writings of St. Catherine of Siena (her dialogues with God) today, one phrase, in particular, struck me:

“RECEIVING FULLY THE HOLY SPIRIT”

In the First Book of Kings, King Solomon is told by God to ask him for anything, and it will be given to him. Solomon asked for the gift of Wisdom/Understanding, and it was given to him. As a result, Solomon has been considered for centuries to be the epitome of Wisdom. The Wisdom of Solomon is often cited.

But, if we read further in Scripture, we find that Solomon didn’t always use this gift and, as a result, made unfortunate life decisions that distanced him from God. The influence of his pagan wife drew him away from the one true God. By not “fully” using his gift had he “received fully the Holy Spirit?”

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus speaks of a man who found a treasure/a pearl and hid it in a field he had bought. What good did the treasure–the pearl–do him hidden away in a field? Often times pearl is used in analogy for wisdom.

In Catholic theology Wisdom, along with Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Wonder, are called the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Further, in Catholic theology, we are said to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit in Baptism, and we receive the fullness of these gifts in Confirmation. That said, if we have received the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, we have already received the “Wisdom of Solomon.” In Baptism and Confirmation, we have been endowed with that precious gift; we have already received the Pearl that is without price along with the other six gifts of the Holy Spirit, which flow naturally from the first gift of Wisdom.

The question remains: “Do we use them?” Have we received “fully” the Holy Spirit? It might be good that we meditate on these gifts we have received. Do we fully use them allowing them to become part of who we are? Or do we leave these precious gifts unwrapped to be opened at a later date?

When my father-in-law died, we found countless gifts under his bed and in his dresser still in their gift boxes to be used later – later never came. Is that what we are doing with our gifts of the Holy Spirit – leaving them unwrapped until later? Or do we make an attempt to understand them and make them a living part of our lives?

Gifts may be given to us, but if they are not used, they are useless. Don’t let that happen with your Holy Spirit gifts from your Baptism and Confirmation – understand them! use them! make them who you are!

Do Not Be Troubled…

“Do not be troubled if you do not immediately receive from God what you ask Him; for He desires to do something even greater for you, while you cling to Him in prayer.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church – 2737

Gate of Heaven

Gate of Heaven is another one of Mary’s traditional titles. This doesn’t mean, however, that she’s decoupaged on St. Peter’s Pearly Portal. Instead, the title refers to Mary’s role as a way through which we can enter into a relationship with her Son.

Protestants and Catholics often disagree on this point. Protestants, arguing that we can go directly to God, claim there’s no need to go through Mary. This is, of course, absolutely true. However, a story told by St. Louis de Montfort helps to clarify Mary’s role in Catholic teaching. St. Louis tells of a poor farmer who had only a worm-riddled apple to present to the king. The farmer knew the apple was imperfect, unfit for royalty. The farmer took the apple to the queen, who was his friend, and asked her to give it to the king. The queen, out of love for the farmer, cut the bad spots out of the apple, put it on a golden serving dish, and surrounded it with flowers. The king, seeing the apple in such a lovely setting, was delighted to accept it as full payment for the farm.

In similar fashion, we can take our desires and needs; however, tarnished they may be to Mary, asking her to present them to her Son on our behalf. Just as the king wouldn’t reject the apple from his queen, so too Jesus won’t turn away our requests when they’re presented by Mary.

Can we go directly to God with our requests? Of course. Do we always have to? Not as long as we have Mary as our friend.

If I could be granted one request, what would it be? Have I asked Mary to take my request to God on my behalf?

365 Mary: A Daily Guide to Mary’s Wisdom and Comfort – Woodeene Koenig-Bricker

Who is ready to stand up for religious liberty? by Sister Constance Veit

In college, I grew in my Catholic faith and had a strong experience of religious pluralism. I was involved in the Newman Center daily, but I had many non-Catholic friends and even frequented Hillel House, the Jewish student center.

Several of my Jewish friends worked in Hillel’s kosher dining room, and since they couldn’t work on the Sabbath or religious holidays, they got me and some other non-Jewish girls jobs there where we served kosher food and did the dishes on Friday evenings and Jewish holidays.

At 19 years old, I didn’t know much about Jewish traditions. My Orthodox friends took their religious obligations seriously and faithfully observed the weekly Sabbath, or Shabbat as I learned to call it. I tried my best to respect their deeply held convictions, even when I didn’t understand them since I didn’t want to offend either my friends or their faith. I secretly admired the courage of the Orthodox Jewish students who unabashedly proclaimed their religious identity through their yarmulkes, their food choices and other observances.

Through these experiences, I learned to approach their faith traditions with reserved curiosity and respectful appreciation. As I learned more about Judaism, while at the same time examining Catholicism in depth, I came to understand that even when we are at a loss to explain the nuances of our faith experiences to skeptics and unbelievers. this does not weaken the sincerity or strength of our convictions.

Things have changed a lot since my college days. As the Little Sisters have spent the last several years in the limelight due to our Supreme Court case over the HHS contraceptive mandate, we have received valuable support and encouragement from many sources. But we have also been the object of mean-spirited hate mail, uninformed critiques and partisan judgments of our supposed hidden agenda. The vitriol directed against us has been both disturbing and disheartening.

Remembering the mutual respect I experienced during my college year, I am deeply saddened to see our current culture’s disdain for traditional religious values, and its apparent amnesia in relation to the intentions of our Founding Fathers. For me the most jarring moment occurred last year when a major political candidate proclaimed, referring to pro-lifers, “Deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed!”

We claim to be a pluralistic society that defends human dignity and the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Such a society is committed to making room for everyone, including those whose convictions run counter to the mainstream, but who wish to live peaceably with others and contribute to the common good. This does not mean every individual will find every job or social situation a perfect fit. Nor does it mean that every employer, organization, or service provider will be able to satisfy the desires and aspirations of every person who walks through their doors.

In a pluralistic society, religious organizations like the Little Sisters of the Poor will inevitably encounter requests for services that run counter to their beliefs, but refusing to provide such services does not offend the conscience rights of others. Nor does is constitute discrimination or bigotry. It is, rather, a means of safeguarding our personal integrity and the Catholic identity of our organizations.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl said in “Being Catholic Today: Catholic Identity in an Age of Challenge”: ”

There are some things that the Church simply will not do, and it is not discriminatory to say, “We will not do that.”…We must remain true to who we are. We cannot be expected to embrace error and give up our identity which inspires us to form ministries of teaching, healing, and charity in the first place.

         As we observe the sixth Fortnight for Freedom (June 21 through July 4), let’s pray that religious liberty will once again be respected as the most cherished of American freedoms. Let’s pray for the freedom to serve in harmony with the truths of the Catholic faith.

Finally, let’s pray for the wisdom to know how to contribute to a better understanding of this important issue in a way that respects all people of good will.

Sister Constance is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.

This excellent article was published in the Pittsburgh (PA) Catholic, Friday, June 30, 2017