The Promise in the DesertRead Now
As I have gotten older, my favorite part about Lent has become the fact that we have the privilege of willingly walking into the desert - into these 40 days - with our Lord. I think there are a lot of times in our lives when we suddenly find ourselves in the desert - desperate for water, nourishment, or companionship. It is in the desert where we not only grow in intimacy with the Lord, but are also able to be strengthened through real repentance.
What is true for us in the deserts of our lives is the same thing that was true for the Prodigal Son in this Sunday’s Gospel: we receive the promise of a Father who receives our repentance with mercy.
The story of the Prodigal Son is an important one for us to reflect upon as we continue on our Lenten journeys - it is through repentance that the very son who squandered his inheritance is welcomed back with open arms into the mercy of his father. And the story doesn’t end there: not only does the father embrace and welcome his son back, he rejoices and celebrates his return for those around him to see.
It is through our repentance that we experience the mercy of God; it is through our repentance that we receive the promise of the desert of these 40 days. This is so beautifully echoed in all the readings that the Church gives us during this season: God the Father rejoices when we are brought back to life again (Luke 15:32).
We as Catholics have the unique privilege of receiving this mercy every time we hear the words of the priest absolving us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Our moments of feeling desperate in the desert can be alleviated by honest repentance. After one particularly frustrating time in my life, I remember feeling like the Prodigal Son: convicted that I needed to repent and return to God, but also feeling shame over all the ways that I had squandered what the Lord had given me. And in that moment a priest reminded me that confession is always a place of victory. Like the prodigal son who acknowledged his failures and was welcomed back with mercy and celebration, we too find an outpouring of mercy and grace when we reconcile ourselves to God.
As we journey towards Calvary, we do so knowing that our repentance leads to an encounter of mercy and ultimately to victory.
Questions for Reflection: What are some moments in your life when you’ve encountered the mercy of God and others? How did these moments affect you?
For more resources to accompany you in your Lenten journey, please click here.
**This post was originally published on 3/28/2019**
On the First Sunday of Lent, the Gospel described how Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights, and yet when Satan approached him in this state of hunger, he was still able to resist the temptation to turn stones into bread and provide food for himself. Jesus responded to this test by recalling the words of Deuteronomy 8:3, “[The LORD] therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your ancestors, so you might know that it is not by bread alone that people live, but by all that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD.
This passage pairs beautifully with the brief but profound and beautiful reflection contained in that Sunday’s Prayer after Communion:
“Renewed now with heavenly bread,
by which faith is nourished, hope increased,
and charity strengthened,
we pray, O Lord,
that we may learn to hunger for Christ,
the true and heavenly Bread,
and strive to live by every word
which proceeds from your mouth.
Through Christ our Lord.”
With these words, the liturgy reminds us of why fasting is so central to our Lenten observances. Firstly, when we are “afflicted with hunger,” we more readily recognize our frailty and our dependence on God’s providence, just as the Israelites did when the Lord provided manna to sustain them in their desert wanderings. In our weakness and tendency toward self-reliance, we are invited to acknowledge that the food that we have is a gift which we receive from the Lord’s bounty.
Second, we are reminded that the physical hunger we experience is not mortification for its own sake, nor do we choose to feel this hunger simply to “appear to others to be fasting” (Mt 6:16) and score points with them or with God. Rather, foregoing physical nourishment is a means towards the end of “learn[ing] to hunger for Christ, the true and heavenly Bread.” This penance reorients our appetites, redirecting them from worldly comforts to that which provides true sustenance—Christ, who offers his very self to us as “the bread of heaven” and “the cup of salvation.”
Indeed, as Jesus says, “My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (Jn 6:55-56). Therefore, “The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1391). While we often seek to satisfy our earthly cravings through superficial means, Christ satisfies our hunger for goodness and love in a way nothing on earth could. The relationship into which we enter through the eucharistic banquet sustains us in our day-to-day living and puts us in touch, in intimacy with Christ who knows well our sufferings, offers us compassion and solidarity, and models for us a way forward.
Having received this heavenly nourishment, Jesus abides in us so that God’s grace can act in us more freely. It turns us outward in service of others, for “As bodily nourishment restores lost strength, so the Eucharist strengthens our charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life…By giving himself to us Christ revives our love and enables us to break our disordered attachments to creatures and root ourselves in him” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1394). Looking beyond our own needs and desires, we recognize the needs and desires of our neighbor and are moved to action. We are drawn “into Jesus’ act of self-oblation…More than just statically receiving the incarnate Logos, we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving” (Deus Caritas Est, 13). We are moved to acts of service and almsgiving, to be bread for others.
Indeed, “The Eucharist commits us to the poor. To receive in truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, his brethren: ‘You have tasted the Blood of the Lord, yet you do not recognize your brother’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1397).
As we fast this Lent, then, let us be mindful of how our hunger directs us to Christ present in the Bread of Life and in our neighbor. The grace before meals I have prayed since I was a child sums this up beautifully: “Señor, da pan a los que tienen hambre y hambre de ti a los que temenos pan” (“O Lord, give bread to those who hunger, and a hunger for you to those of us who have bread”).
The tenth anniversary of the election of Pope Francis was on March 13th and anniversary of the inauguration of his Petrine Ministry was on March 19th. As we commemorate these special anniversaries, it is worth reflecting on his continual call to all the baptized to share responsibility for the mission of Christ and the Church as missionary disciples. He is simply restating the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. Living this mission is part of our call to holiness.
Pope Francis describes holiness in Gaudate et Exultate “To be holy does not require being a bishop, a priest or a religious. We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer. That is not the case. We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves. Are you called to the consecrated life? Be holy by living out your commitment with joy. Are you married? Be holy by loving and caring for your husband or wife, as Christ does for the Church. Do you work for a living? Be holy by laboring with integrity and skill in the service of your brothers and sisters. Are you a parent or grandparent? Be holy by patiently teaching the little ones how to follow Jesus. Are you in a position of authority? Be holy by working for the common good and renouncing personal gain” (14).
Prayer, both communal and individual, along with the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, which Pope Francis has emphasized often, will aid us in living holiness in the way that he describes. Lent is the perfect time to deepen our efforts, always done with the grace of God.
Ad multos annos, Pope Francis!
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
In God, the Infinite Love,
“Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment” (Jl 2:12-13).
There’s a moment in every Lent when I begin to stumble. When the promises I made seem too difficult, when I convince myself that the Lord doesn’t need my sacrifice, when I begin to follow the call of comfort and leave Christ’s side—and very suddenly I find myself lost in the desert. Maybe this experience sounds familiar to you, finding yourself two, four, six weeks into Lent, and all of a sudden you lose your motivation and forget why you decided to make your Lenten promises in the first place. It can be tempting when you find yourself in the place I fondly call “the mid-Lent slump” to give up entirely and say, “Maybe next year will be better,” “Maybe next year will be my year,” but in this post I want to present a different solution. This year, when we find ourselves lost in the desert, let’s press into the discomfort and ask Christ to teach us how to be with Him there.
There’s a meditation that I have found to be incredibly helpful when I find myself in this place during Lent. Begin by placing yourself at the scene of the Baptism in the Jordan. What does it look like, smell like, sound like? How do you feel when it is revealed that the man in front of you is the Son of God? Then Jesus begins to walk into the desert and you follow Him. Why do you follow? Have you prepared for this trip, or have you brought nothing, trusting that He will provide? How do you feel now that you are in the desert?
When we find ourselves in “the mid-Lent slump,” we need to remind ourselves of why we committed to Lent in the first place. When we are able to remember this “why,” we are given new strength to continue into the desert, to press in with Jesus into the discomfort, leaning on Him for strength, because we realize we aren’t alone in the desert. All of this, however, can be very difficult without practical steps to return to Jesus in the desert. Here are some that I have found to be most helpful when Lent becomes difficult.
Most importantly, as you press into Lent in the midst of the “slump,” remember the Lord’s unending mercy and love for you. As it says in Joel 2, God desires for us to return to Him with contrite hearts so that He can pour out His mercy and grace onto us. When you find yourself struggling in Lent, turn back to Him in all His kindness, and ask Him to walk with you and give you the strength you need to continue following Him into the desert.
God is Love!Read Now
Deus Caritas est: God is Love. How many times have we heard this simple yet profound theological truth in a homily, story, or teaching? How many times have we taken this for granted? In a world where truth often seems subjective, God’s love remains a refreshing and comforting constant in the Christian life. If this were not so, for what purpose, let alone by what means, would you or I exist? It is this perfect love of God which sustains us each and every moment of eternity. In fact, it’s God’s very nature, so bursting with love, that wills us into being. So too must our love for our neighbors guide and give purpose to our lives.
The liturgical season of Lent is an especially wonderful opportunity for us to reorient ourselves towards God’s love and mercy. As we prepare to celebrate the ultimate expression of love the world has ever known this liturgical season, we may give up something we fleetingly desire in order to be made more aware of our need to depend on the One Love, the True Love, the Infinite Love. Of course, we can do more throughout Lent, but take to heart the suggestion of my bishop:
[T]his Lent, fast and abstain when the Church requires it; give something up to make room for God and his mercy to fill you. Pray more and pray deeply and whenever you can because God listens to you: prayer puts you in touch with God and his mercy. Do something good for someone else every day; resolve to care about someone else every day, because God does, Jesus does and wants you to be like him, loving and full of mercy. Don’t make this Lent a complicated regimen of resolutions and promises that will unravel a week from now. Make it simple. Make it real. [emphasis added]
Lent is not a time of self-pity or bemoaning our spiritual shortcomings. To fail to acknowledge God’s willingness to have mercy and forgive the sinner of his or her faults places sin as the end without further hope of relief, restricts one’s view of God as having limits on his love, and risks committing a sin against the Holy Spirit (i.e. believing that the magnitude of a sin is greater than God’s power— and continuous willingness— to forgive [cf CCC 1864]). While Lent brings to mind the classic images of sackcloth and ashes, the Lord desires something much more personal than just the recognition of our sins—“sincere, heartfelt repentance, change of heart, conversion” is what each of us is called to offer the Lord with the same Love He offered to those He encountered in His earthly ministry and ultimately from the Cross.
“I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” our Lord, echoing the words of the prophet Hosea, declares to the Pharisees during the calling of Matthew (cf. Hosea 6:6) For us today, these words still ring true. Lent is not an easy time, but it invites us to shake us out of our spiritual complacency if we are to answer the Lord’s call to conversion. This may be uncomfortable. Receiving the ashes on our foreheads tomorrow, however, signifies our commitment to God that we will endeavor each day—and not just until Easter Sunday—to change our lives to be (once again) oriented towards God in avoidance of the sin and distractions which lead us away from His love. While we seek forgiveness from God, we are also to freely forgive others, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Even if we fall along the way, the important thing is to pick ourselves up and start again— the Lord is patient!
In closing, let us reflect on a final word from the Venerable Fulton Sheen:
God loves you despite your unworthiness. It is His love which will make you better, rather than your betterment which will make Him love you. … Say to yourself over and over again, regardless of what happens: “God loves me!” And then add: “And I will try to love Him!” (Fulton Sheen, Remade for Happiness: Achieving Life’s Purpose through Spiritual Transformation (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2014), 187, 25.)
**This post was originally published on 2/28/2017**
As part of our continuing efforts to grow the Catholic Feast Day Site, we have added one lesser-known saint or blessed per week. While these saints might not have the renown of St. Patrick or St. Francis of Assisi, they still are powerful role models and intercessors. When I was helping compile the resources to add these saints and blesseds to the site, I would try to put myself in their shoes. It is easy to write about them abstractly, just like a laundry list, but as I would imagine their situations, I would find myself in awe at how Christ worked through their life. During the rest of this month, we will celebrate the feasts of three incredible individuals in the life and history of the Church.
St. Clement Mary Hofbauer
Tomorrow, on March 15th, we will celebrate the feast day of the Redemptorist priest St. Clement Mary Hofbauer. Clement Mary Hofbauer lived from 1751 to 1820, a very tumultuous time in central Europe, especially around Poland and Austria where he lived. He helped open the first congregations of the Redemptorists north of Italy, helping the order spread throughout Europe. Clement Mary was responsive to the extreme poverty and need throughout Poland which was the result of the violent political conflict. He tried to help everyone he could. It must have felt like he was trying to drink from a fire hydrant with a straw, but he kept working for all the impoverished in Poland. Even after the political situation caused him to leave Poland for Vienna, he continued his work of helping individuals, even when some people might have seen it as futile. In honor of St. Clement Mary Hofbauer’s feast day, let us pray for his intercession, so that we too may trust that even when our works seem small, God can do great things through us.
Next week, on March 23rd, we will celebrate the feast of St. Rafqa. For me, St. Rafqa was one of those saints that made me glad I took the time to reflect on her life. Biographically, she was born in 1832 in Lebanon and died in 1914. She was a Mariamette Sister until 1871, and when the sisters merged with a different order, she joined the Lebanese Maronite Order and lived a quiet life of personal piety afterwards. That alone is impressive. But then I think about the incredible uncertainty and stress that must have come with the change from the Mariamette Sisters to the Lebanese Maronite Order. And I read that she lived the last twenty-nine years of her life with chronic headaches and eye pain, yet she continued her work in the order. Then she spent the last seventeen years of her life, while still in chronic pain, helping found a new monastery. In honor of St. Rafqa’s feast day, let us pray for her intercession, so that we too may keep Christ at the center of our lives, no matter the obstacles thrown in our way.
Bl. Francesco Faà di Bruno
On March 27th, we get to close out the month by celebrating the feast of Bl. Francesco Faà di Bruno. Faà di Bruno lived in the mid- and late nineteenth century in Italy. In the early part of his life, he was a well-known mathematician, especially renowned for his study of elliptic functions and higher order calculus. After becoming friends with St. John Bosco, Faà di Bruno became an active social reformer throughout Turin, helping those who otherwise would be forgotten by society. Unusual for the customs of the time, Faà di Bruno decided to become a priest in his late forties and spent the rest of his life as a priest, social reformer, and mathematician. It wasn’t that being a priest precluded him from being a mathematician; he lived his life in three-fold harmony. He even has a formula for high-level calculus named after him today! I find his life an inspiring model of how high-level math, faith, and social justice can all live in harmony while complementing each other. In honor of Bl. Francesco Faà di Bruno’s feast day, let us pray for his intercession, so that we too may let our God-given gifts shine and bring Christ’s love to others.
St. Clement Mary Hofbauer, pray for us.
St. Rafqa, pray for us.
Bl. Francesco Faà di Bruno, pray for us.
To learn more about the saints, visit our Catholic Feast Days Website by clicking here.
The conference organized by the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, held in the new Synod Hall from February 16th to 18th, 2023, was remarkable and inspiring in many ways. Though I had the opportunity to participate in many similar church events in the past as Rector General, I must admit that this event was something special.
The main theme of the meeting—“Pastors and Laity Called to Walk Together”—was communicated not only through lectures but also through a lived experience. There were more than two hundred participants, including cardinals, bishops, priests, religious sisters, leaders of associations, and lay members. We were all able to sit together, side by side, and listen, reflect, discuss, pray, and even eat together. There were bishops from so many episcopal conferences, and most of them came with their collaborators, priests, and lay members. Here was the Church of the People of God, “Pilgrims of Hope,” walking together with the same dignity and responsibility. There was no question of who was greater or smaller among us. We were all missionary disciples of Jesus. The event was organized to raise awareness among pastors and laity alike of the significance of the common responsibility that stems from Baptism and that unites us all.
Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Prefect Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, put this ecclesial vision into words in his opening address:
All members of the People of God, pastors and lay faithful alike, share full responsibility for the life, mission, care, management, and growth of the People of God. There is a need to go beyond the approach of “delegation” or that of “substitution” where the laity are “delegated” by the pastors for some sporadic service, or the laity “substitute” for clerics in some functions, yet they are working in isolation. All of this seems to be somewhat reductive. During the Plenary Assembly, we felt a renewed call from the Lord to “go forward together” in taking responsibility in serving the Christian community. Each of us does so according to our individual vocation. We do not adopt an attitude of superiority, but rather we pool our energies as we share the mission of proclaiming the Gospel to the men and women of our time.
Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council Constitution on the Church, states: “Let the spiritual shepherds recognize and promote the dignity as well as the responsibility of the laity in the Church” (37). This means that sixty years ago, the Second Vatican Council had already visualized such a church of communion and participation. The question remains as to whether there will be the actual realization of such an ecclesial vision in the local churches around the world.
As a Pallottine, I know that my founder, St. Vincent Pallotti, had already visualized such a church more than a hundred years before the Second Vatican Council. St. Vincent stated: “Every Catholic, whether priest, religious, or lay faithful, should rejoice because all of his talents, knowledge, learning, studies, power, profession…material goods, prayers used or done for the spreading of the faith and rekindling of charity in the world can acquire the merit of the apostolate.” Thus, we are all called to the apostolate of Jesus Christ. Besides, by participating in the salvific work of Jesus, we perfect ourselves as an image of the Holy Trinity and become like Jesus himself, the supreme model of perfection.
I left with a renewed conviction of the prophetic vision of the Union of Catholic Apostolate of the Roman St. Vincent Pallotti. Building up a church of communion, participation, and mission—as is so often repeated today as we talk about the synodal process—was the ultimate scope of this lively meeting. Yet I was also left with a puzzling question as well: how come this noble vision of St. Vincent has not inflamed our hearts to bring about its realization in service of the mission of God’s people around the world? What may be missing?
Maybe we need to share this dream of Pope Francis, expressed during the audience granted to the participants on the final day of the meeting:
How I wish that all of us might cherish in mind and heart this lovely vision of the Church! A church that is intent on mission, where all join forces and walk together to proclaim the Gospel. A church in which what binds us together is our being baptized Christians, our belonging to Jesus. A church marked by fraternity between laity and pastors, as all work side by side each day in every sphere of pastoral life, for they are all baptized.
In other words, he speaks of a church built on spiritual communion, effective participation in the apostolate, and zealous missionary endeavors in favor of God’s people, especially directed towards those who are on the peripheries of faith and existence.
In realizing such a dream, the Catholic Apostolate Center of the Immaculate Conception Province of the Society, under the leadership of Fr. Frank Donio, SAC and his team, renders a commendable service to the universal Church and the Pallottine family.
Learn more about the conference here:
Once I learned about the tradition of picking a Confirmation saint, I was instantly interested in the life of St. Felicity. She was the Confirmation saint of my older cousin, with whom I am very close. I always heard the story that when the bishop heard that she chose St. Felicity as her saint, he had a big smile on his face. When it became my turn to be confirmed, this same cousin was my sponsor, so I thought it would be fitting that I also choose Felicity to be my saint. But I didn’t know a ton about St. Felicity, besides the fact that she had a very pretty name, was a martyr, and had her name read out in the Litany of Saints at the Easter Vigil Mass. As I have begun to research more about her life and martyrdom, I have only become more and more interested in learning about her.
The first thing that I noticed about St. Felicity is that she is most commonly associated with St. Perpetua; you usually see them styled as “Sts. Perpetua and Felicity”. This is because the two women were imprisoned and martyred together in the early days of the Church, but that is just about the only similarity between the two women. St. Perpetua was a young noblewoman who had just become a mother at the time of her death, while St. Felicity was an enslaved woman who was imprisoned and pregnant at the time of her death. I couldn’t help but wonder how the two women became to be martyred together while on very different paths in their life.
Perpetua’s father, who was pagan, pleaded with her to denounce her Christian faith, which she refused to do. This led to her imprisonment in Carthage, North Africa, at the age of twenty-two. As for Felicity, the only information we know is that she too was imprisoned for the refusal to deny her faith. There is actually a first-hand account of Perpetua’s imprisonment from a diary that she wrote, and in it, she details the horrors of her confinement. She writes, “After a few days we were taken into prison, and I was much afraid because I had never known such darkness. O bitter day! There was a great heat because of the press, there was cruel handling of the soldiers.” I can only imagine the rollercoaster of emotions that Perpetua was feeling during her imprisonment. She was taken away from her child and suffered violence from the soldiers, all for refusing to go against her faith.
Sts. Perpetua and Felicity and their companions were soon martyred. They had all accepted their fate for their belief in God and lived out their final days in prayer. Prior to her death, St. Felicity gave birth to a baby girl, who was raised by a Christian woman in Carthage.
I find it to be very fitting that the feast of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity happens to fall during Lent, a time in which we are meant to reflect on the suffering that Jesus faced during his Death and Resurrection. We can look back on the martyrdom of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity as another example that bears witness to extreme fortitude, similar to that of Jesus. Over the years, I have really enjoyed learning more about the life of St. Felicity, and I feel proud to have chosen her as my Confirmation saint after seeing the strength she showed during the suffering she faced at the end of her life.
Inviting Christ and Others Into Our Hearts During Lent Through HospitalityRead Now
As a young girl in elementary school, I attended a moderately small school—about sixty students in a grade level split into two classrooms. Each year, with the coming of a new grade, the class of students would get mixed up, and I’d usually have to make new friends. For some reason, I always gravitated toward meeting the students completely new to the school. At some point all of us have felt left out in one way or another, and I always wanted to make sure these new students didn’t feel ignored or out of place.
This prompting to want others to feel included and like they belong has always stuck with me. I felt this most especially when I began to open my first house to a small women’s group gathering about once a week. At first, I was nervous to open my home to people I didn’t know or didn’t know well. But after my first few hosting opportunities, I found it to be something I enjoyed tremendously. I began to seek out additional chances for hosting themed activities, such as a Lenten soup and salad potluck or what has now turned into an annual cookie party tradition during Advent. And the best part: making new and lifelong friends.
During the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, I moved to a new city. That meant a new home, new neighborhood, new church, new friends, etc. Years of isolation during the pandemic has made it difficult to meet people when you start over after a move. Last year, I decided to try something new—hosting a “Blessed Brunch” for local Catholic women at my new home. I hardly knew most of the women who attended the brunch, but I’ve walked away from that event with wonderful new friends and connections at local parishes.
A month later, one of the women from the Blessed Brunch invited me to a small women’s group. This group has been a wonderful source of comfort and friendship to me over the last year. We each take turns hosting the monthly gathering, inviting others we know who may be interested in joining us. A woman from this group always asks if she can invite a friend in need of community whenever we host additional gatherings outside of the small group. I find this to be a very touching gesture and one that encourages me to think of additional people in need of community around me.
I love this about hospitality: in the action of making our homes—and hearts—open to others through hospitality, we become more selfless by making room for and serving others. By being welcoming, we share what we have, whether that be food, time, or a willingness to listen and comfort. These small actions reflect God’s love for us.
Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan is a classic example of how one man made himself vulnerable and available to the needs of another—an act of both generosity and hospitality. In contrast, when we serve out of a feeling of obligation, the joyfulness and warmth of giving in that hospitality is lacking. During Jesus’ public ministry, he and his disciples relied on the hospitality of others as they ministered to others. “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give,” Jesus said (Mt 10:9-11).
The early Christians relied heavily on the hospitality of other Christians who might have been strangers. As Acts 2:44-47 describes, “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
As we listen to the invitations and promptings of the Holy Spirit this Lent, let us discern how we can invite Christ and others in our community into our hearts. Perhaps he is calling us to host a Lenten Bible Study small group or a Friday night soup, salad, and Stations of the Cross potluck. Maybe there is an opportunity for you to invite a catechumen or someone new to you or your church to attend an event together during the Lenten season. In the serving of others, we serve Christ himself. How might you be called to extend hospitality to others this Lent?
Make Time and Be OpenRead Now
How does one “prepare for Lent” in our current world? How might you quiet your life for forty days and be as if in the desert with Christ? What could Lenten preparations look like? These are the questions I considered as I began this reflection. As a mom, wife, teacher, and Catholic woman in today’s world, my life is hectic and my focus is often driven by the next prioritized event or deadline. If we’re being honest, I don’t have forty days to be consumed by a literal or figurative desert for prayer and quiet. But is that just the kind of reasoning that society is telling me? Where do I find God in the noise?
To more easily consider Lent this year, I broke it down into four categories of my life.
This Lent as a mom, I want to cherish the little joyful moments. My son is now three, and other parents may understand when I say that sometimes three is exciting and adorable, but other times it’s exhausting and I count down the minutes until bedtime. Children are the most wonderful blessing, but they are so much work too. I want to be playful with Vincent this Lent, I want to do less complaining or rushing him through things, and I want to cherish the little joyful moments.
This Lent as a wife, I want to be in solidarity with my husband as we try our best to support each other with Lenten sacrifices. For me, indulgence is an area where I want to work on sacrificing until Easter. It will be challenging, but it’s easier when you have someone beside you, helping you stick to a goal or a plan, and I know we can do this for each other. Forty days is a good time to get into better habits together and put our best feet forward for the Easter season.
This Lent as an educator, I want to intentionally pray for each of my students and their families. Having moved to teaching at a new school this year, I have new students and a new environment where I can share with children how precious they are. Although I’m not at a Catholic school, I can still treat each of my nineteen students with intention and consider them and their families throughout Lent.
This Lent as a Catholic woman, I want to add on quiet. This, for me, will look like turning off the radio for one whole commute to or from work a few times a week. During that time, I’ll sit with God and reflect: consider my actions, my gratitude, and my intentions for my day or my evening. I’ll try to avoid just picking up the phone to call someone and complain about a bad day or listening to music to drown out the day. I want to add on quiet.
Thinking back to my first questions, I still am going to find it difficult to be in quiet with God and not just find time but MAKE time for Christ. I really think that’s the difference: when we only have moments here and there to give, we’re not at peace. When we make time for Christ—schedule it into a calendar or create a time of the day for just us and God—we will feel and find his blessings that much more easily.
My challenge for you is to schedule time for God each week in Lent. Priorities will still be important and life will still be hectic and busy, but we can only sit with Christ in the desert for forty days. I wouldn’t want to miss that for anything in the world. My scheduled times with God for the next forty days will be: Tuesdays on my ride home from work, Saturday mornings for a few minutes before everyone is awake, Friday mornings on my way into work, and Sundays during the Gospel and homily when I can think and reflect on the Word in Scripture. I know I can achieve these four times each week, and I know it’s not too much for my to-do list. I’ve even added them to my calendar so I can’t forget.
We’re exhausted; Christ was too. We’re weary and burnt out; Jesus’ apostles were too. We’re calling out to our Heavenly Father, “Why have you forsaken me?” as Christ did (Mt 27:46). All you have to do is make time and be open.
From the AshesRead Now
Lent is not a diet program nor is it a spiritual competition. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are means to an end, not ends in themselves. They are the recommended ways for us to deepen our encounter with Christ and grow in holiness. We seem to know this but when a food that we have given up for Lent is placed before us, do you say, “NOOOO, I have given it up for Lent!”? Of course, this is an exaggeration to make a point. Pope Francis in his 2023 Lenten Message focuses us on the purpose of penance during Lent.
“Lenten penance is a commitment, sustained by grace, to overcoming our lack of faith and our resistance to following Jesus on the way of the cross. To deepen our knowledge of the Master, to fully understand and embrace the mystery of his salvation, accomplished in total self-giving inspired by love, we must allow ourselves to be taken aside by him and to detach ourselves from mediocrity and vanity. We need to set out on the journey, an uphill path that, like a mountain trek, requires effort, sacrifice, and concentration.”
Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving do take “effort, sacrifice, and concentration.” They are also “sustained by grace.” We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that we are doing this on our own. What we are doing is cooperating with the grace of Christ who wants us to deepen our encounter with him. The Church offers us these traditional Lenten practices and penances so that we may come into greater life in him in and through our daily lives. As Pope Francis reminds us,
“While our ordinary commitments compel us to remain in our usual places and our often repetitive and sometimes boring routines, during Lent we are invited to ascend ‘a high mountain’ in the company of Jesus and to live a particular experience of spiritual discipline – ascesis – as God’s holy people.”
May the charity of Christ urge us on!
In God, the Infinite Love,
Preparing for LentRead Now
Lent is one of the holiest times for our Church: the forty days of waiting for the Death and eventual Resurrection of Jesus. Beginning with Ash Wednesday, these forty days can sometimes seem to some like a blur, but to others, they can be filled with anxiety and anticipation. Throughout this season, there are many different ways in which you can prepare for this holy celebration. Some people choose to give something up, a way to imitate and participate in Jesus’ sacrifice when he went into the desert to pray and fast for forty days before later dying on the cross. Typically, you would give up something that you enjoy as a self-sacrifice or challenge. I try to give up one of my favorite treats, Diet Coke, every year and call upon the Lord for strength when I am tempted to break my challenge. But I always remind myself that it is okay if I do not succeed the whole forty days. Jesus showed extreme strength and self-discipline during his forty days in the desert—something most of us could not bear. While giving up my soda is not the same caliber of difficulty, it is just supposed to be a goal that I hope to achieve.
One thing I try to implement in Lent is a way to better myself over these forty days. For example, while giving up my Diet Coke, I try to focus on substituting it with drinking more water or being active outside for half an hour at least three times a week. This way, I am working towards hitting other goals and striving for a new and improved me at the end of the season. The hope is that when we get to the end of the Lenten season, these goals become habits that we can follow after our Easter celebration. Some examples of other goals you could try to implement include: reading a chapter of a book each day, praying the rosary before bedtime, going on a mile walk every day, trying to learn more about different saints each week, attending daily Mass, or eating takeout only once a week. While these can sometimes seem similar to giving something up (i.e. only getting takeout once a week), I challenge you to reframe your thought process regarding these goals. Instead of thinking of them as a negative—giving something up—think of them as adding some sort of value to your life - after all, by offering these acts to God, they are enabling you to participate in Christ’s redemptive sacrifice, grow in self-control, and form beneficial new habits. This has been something that I have really struggled with and had to pray over. It has been hard to get out of the negative mindset and focus on transforming myself—mentally, physically, and spiritually—over the course of the Lenten season.
However you prepare, I hope that you will go into this holy season with a prayerful attitude and allow yourself to experience change over the course of Lent. I encourage you to find ways to experience the season in an unfamiliar way, to explore new traditions and embrace the holiness of Lent. As we, as a Church, prepare for this Lenten season that will begin on Ash Wednesday, I invite you to take a look at our Lenten and Easter Resource Page. This resource page has many wonderful resources, such as podcasts, webinars, our newly-published “Lenten Activities For Youth and Young Adults” guide, and our “Introduction to Lent: A Time to Draw Closer to the Risen Lord” guide, which has more ideas for practices that can help you enter into the prayerful and transformative spirit of this Lenten season.
As I have gotten to work on our Feast Day website over my time working at the Catholic Apostolate Center, I have always been fascinated with saints that seemed extraordinary but whom I had never heard about before. I couldn’t believe that these saints weren’t more well known. Just when I thought there wasn’t possibly anything new I could read about in the life of a saint, I would learn something that left me awestruck. I knew we needed to add some of these lesser-known saints to our Feast Day website to help others learn about their tremendous lives. We have picked saints who are truly from all walks of life: from the early Church to the end of the twentieth century, from teenagers to those who didn’t devote themselves to Christ until the end of their lives, from artists to biochemists to hermits. I want to highlight the three we are celebrating in the remainder of February to help you become more familiar with them.
Bl. Fra Angelico (February 18th)
We will celebrate the feast of Bl. Fra Angelico at the end of this week. From his youth, Bl. Fra Angelico was an incredibly talented painter. Even with his skill and success, he listened to God’s call and joined the Dominicans. His time with the Dominicans allowed his artistic skills to flourish. The Dominican charism permeated all of his paintings, and he became one of the most successful painters of the early Renaissance period. I find it inspiring that while he was at the top of his field, he remained humble and committed to Christ and the Dominicans; he truly is a role model for all time. For his feast day this year, I am looking forward to looking at images of some of his most famous pieces of art and prayerfully meditating on the religious imagery and symbolism in them. Three of his works in which I always see something new are the San Marco Altarpiece, The Transfiguration, and the Madonna of Humility.
Bl. Fra Angelico, Pray for Us!
St. Lazarus Zographos (February 23rd)
The week after Bl. Fra Angelico, we continue the artistic theme with the feast of St. Lazarus Zographos. St. Lazarus was a ninth-century iconographer and the first saint to be canonized who specifically dedicated himself to this trade. He was a renowned iconographer, which normally would bring praise and success, but he lived in a time of strict sentiment against iconography, and iconographers were persecuted throughout the Byzantine Empire. This didn’t deter St. Lazarus. He continued writing icons and even wrote them when he was in prison for doing so. While reading about St. Lazarus’ life, I learned that one should say “writing” rather than “painting” icons, because the process of creating an icon is about more than just painting; it is about the prayer, tradition, and the painting all coming together in the icon. While none of his icons exist today, for St. Lazarus’ feast day, let us learn more about his life and pray with icons from other iconographers.
St. Lazarus Zographos, Pray for Us!
St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows (February 27th)
In the last week of the month, we will celebrate the feast of St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows. Compared to the other two saints above, St. Gabriel highlights the diversity in the lives of the blesseds and saints of the Church. St. Gabriel was a nineteenth-century Italian who suffered many illnesses and maladies in his youth. Each time he made a promise to himself that he would enter religious life if he got better. Even though he didn’t keep his promise many times, he finally did so and joined the Passionists after his sister died in the cholera epidemic. However, his life was cut short by tuberculosis when he was just twenty-three while still studying to be ordained a priest. Pope Benedict XV declared St. Gabriel the patron saint of Catholic youth as well as those studying for the priesthood. Sometimes the lives of saints who had established lives and successful careers, like Bl. Fra Angelico, can seem overwhelming. But a saint like St. Gabriel can be more relatable. Like us, he was just on his way and strove to live each and every day growing closer to Christ. For St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows’ feast, let us reflect on how we can grow closer to Christ throughout our everyday routines.
St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, Pray for Us!
To learn more about the saints, visit our Catholic Feast Days Website by clicking here.
For the last two years, my parish has hosted a virtual Lourdes pilgrimage led by the Lourdes Volunteers. This prayerful experience went beyond my general understanding of Mary’s 18 apparitions to St. Bernadette in southern France during 1858. By attending this virtual pilgrimage, I felt the Virgin Mary’s call to learn more about her, and through her, to grow closer to God. A few months after attending my first virtual pilgrimage, I completed a Marian consecration with several friends. Thankfully, the team of volunteers with the Lourdes Volunteers is still hosting virtual pilgrimage experiences via broadcast on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes on February 11.
We often think of the physical healing miracles at Lourdes, but emotional healing is also an important part of the message of Lourdes. When I attended these virtual pilgrimage sessions, the lessons of sacrifice that Our Lady shared with St. Bernadette stood out to me most. “I do not promise you happiness of this world, but of the next,” Mary said to St. Bernadette. Mary reminds us that uniting our sufferings to Jesus’ sufferings on the cross is where we find true joy.
I don’t know about you, but that’s a lot easier said than done!
Prayer is transformative and plays a huge part in helping get us through our earthly sufferings. Choosing love helps make sacrifice endurable. St. Bernadette taught us that suffering passes, but having suffered remains eternally. The physical and emotional sacrifices of this world are temporary compared to the glory of everlasting life in heaven with God.
St. Bernadette famously said, “One who loves does not notice their trials, or perhaps more accurately, is able to love them. Love without measure.” At first, this not noticing of trials seems idealistic. But then I realized that our trials are made more bearable because of our love for another. I think of how mothers go through physical pain and exhaustion for their newborn babies, or how a father stays up at night with a sick child. I think of how husbands and wives sacrifice individual wants for the needs of each other. I think of how a friend puts their own struggles aside to help another friend going through a deep, rough patch.
We can look to Mary and Jesus as examples of how to love while enduring sacrifice. “She spoke to me as one person to another,” said St. Bernadette of Mary. This conversational nature of Mary and St. Bernadette’s relationship shows us that we can easily speak to her and ask for her prayerful intercession as our mother.
At Mary’s appearances to St. Bernadette, she revealed herself to be the Immaculate Conception. By allowing God to forgive us of our sins and conduct his work inside us, we are becoming more “immaculate” witnesses to God in the world. Mary emphasized the need for penance and prayer, not just for ourselves, but for the healing of all.
While our travel is limited during this Covid-19 pandemic, we can still embody St. Bernadette by imagining the grotto and going there in our hearts to make a pilgrimage.
Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us. St. Bernadette, pray for us.
**This post was originally published on 2/22/2021**
“Dear young people, the happiness you are seeking, the happiness you have a right to enjoy has a name and a face: it is Jesus of Nazareth, hidden in the Eucharist. Only He gives the fullness of life to humanity!” – Pope Benedict XVI, Address to Young People, Apostolic Journey to Cologne on the Occasion of the 20th World Youth Day
Growing up as a cradle Catholic, it was always easy to take the Eucharist for granted. Even though I recognized the true presence, it was tempting to see Holy Communion, adoration, and Jesus being present in the tabernacle as a bonus to the faith and not the foundation of the way I lived my life. Now that I serve in youth ministry, I see that this line of thinking too often becomes the norm for young Catholics.
But what happens when young Catholics live a life centered around the Eucharist, when they allow themselves to be consumed by Christ, finding complete freedom in complete surrender? They begin to live in their identity as beloved sons and daughters.
I got to witness this transformation firsthand this summer serving as a missionary with Catholic Youth Summer Camp. Every week, I watched middle school and high school students meet Jesus in the Eucharist for the first time, experiencing His love and feeling the truth of their identity in a real, tangible way. And every week after these experiences, there was a shift in the way these kids lived their lives. It was as if they were no longer afraid of being judged or not accepted by the teenagers around them; instead, they were confident in the sufficiency of the love they felt from God. When the campers started to recognize and feel the truth of their identity as sons and daughters, when they realized that they can look into Jesus in the Eucharist and physically see that truth, they no longer cared about the opinions of the people around them and would do whatever brought them joy. This often looked like the small but life-changing steps of fully entering into the Mass and worship, taking times of prayer seriously, and having childlike fun and joy throughout the day.
Throughout the summer, I began to realize that the experience that these teenagers had in their first moment of encounter with Jesus, the childlike joy and freedom they experienced, is not an experience for them—or for children—alone. All of us, including You and I, are all seen by the Father as His beloved daughters and sons, and He desires to show us that truth and the love He holds for us in a real, tangible way through the Eucharist. Every time we receive Jesus into our bodies, every time we spend time gazing into His face in adoration, we give Him the opportunity to remind us of how unconditionally loved we are, how we belong with Him and nothing else. These truths give us the freedom to not fear what waits in the world, nor fear the chains of sin or worldliness. They help us recognize that there is no fear in the perfect love we experience living in Jesus Christ, and the only thing we have to worry about is following His will. When the world is not something to fear, we can recognize creation as the gift that it is and receive what the Lord has waiting for us.
The next time you go to Mass or adoration, recognize that Love Incarnate is entering you in order to prove just how far He’ll go to show that you belong with Him. Allow that truth of His unconditional love and your belonging in it to shape the way you live your life, embracing the freedom He has won and given to us.