The last week of Lent had me thinking really hard, not just because Holy week was fast approaching and I needed to decide which Mass to attend on Palm Sunday, but because this past weekend I was giving a talk at my fourth and final Catholic Daughters of the Americas retreat. My talk was going to be about Lent (obviously) but more specifically, giving things up for Lent.
I ended up writing a thousand words on the last 12 years of my life—what I gave up for Lent each year and what I got out of it. I talked to my friends in Catholic Daughters about my lack of understanding when it comes to Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice, and how lent is a time to strive to understand that and to strengthen our relationship with Christ. My talk culminated in my revelation that adding something to my life during Lent, rather than giving something up (I had tried giving up soda and peanut butter cups) helped me to understand Jesus’ sacrifice for us and to strengthen my relationship with God. I shared with them my experience doing community service and how I my attempt to added more prayer to my daily life as an attempt to do this. I found that daily prayer was ultimately the best way for me to strengthen my relationship with God and when I walked into church on Sunday I felt more at home because I had never ended the conversation I started with God the week before—I had continued it every night while fulfilling my Lenten promise to pray. I asked my fellow Catholic Daughters what they had given up for Lent and how this might strengthen their relationship with God. What I did not realize until after I shared my own Lenten experience with them is that finding what works for me during Lent is only the first step.
Yes, I had graduated from giving up soda and candy for forty days in the Spring and grown to making a personal commitment to talk to God more, but why? What was it for? I realized this Saturday as I sat among my friends who I’m about to leave (springtime and looming graduation fills me with a large dose of nostalgia) that I strengthen my relationship with God so that I can help them strengthen theirs as well. Sometime we don’t realize the impact and influence we have on those around us.
Lent is a time to reflect on our faith and how we practice it. Many people do to intensify their practice of the their Faith during Lent, whether it be attending daily Mass, going to Confession or simply getting back in the habit of going to Sunday Mass. In the beginning, I added daily prayer to my life during Lent for myself. But, I now see that in strengthening my own relationship with God I have acquired the tools and experience to help my peers grow closer to God as well—and I should do that! As Lent comes to a close and Holy Week begins, I challenge you to find a way to use your personal growth during Lent to help those around you. How can you be a positive presence in the lives of those around you?
Eileen Welch is a senior at The Catholic University of America and the Regent of Catholic Daughters of the Americas, Court Catholic University.
This Sunday’s gospel from Matthew asks us to love not only our neighbor, but our enemy as well. It says:
“You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’”
It is easy to hate those who cause us pain, but God calls us to love them instead, to demonstrate the perfect love that He shows us. As children we are always told to treat others with kindness and respect, and loving those who we do not like is a challenge that continues throughout our lives. How do we turn the other cheek? Jesus says, “Offer no resistance to the one who is evil” “Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles.”
God asks us to embrace the challenges of our enemies and instead of responding with hate respond with the love He shows us. He points out that many of our enemies are not so different from us,
“For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
How can we translate this to our everyday life and what is the benefit? Find an “enemy” a rival in a class, a competitive sibling, a disgruntled roommate. It is easy to respond to their negativity or the feeling that they are persecuting you with equal hatred or unpleasantness. But, this benefits no one. If we instead respond with peace and love, we stop a cycle of hatred and persecution and show to them the love the God shows to us. This furthers peace throughout the world and within our society, it has the power to solve great conflict and bring the smallest bit of happiness to someone. God’s love is perfect and can only be achieved and spread if we his children are actively working to spread it, and if we are at the same time resisting the urge to respond to hatred with hatred. The beginning of this week’s gospel references the “Eye for an eye” form of justice in society, and it asks us to rise above this need to get even and bring about change through not just acceptance of our enemies, but love of them.
Eileen Welch is Regent of Catholic Daughters of the Americas Court #2646 at the Catholic University of America.
This past Sunday marked the beginning of Advent, my favorite time of year. What I love most about Advent is that it is four weeks long, and the opportunities to celebrate and prepare for Jesus’ birth are abundant. But, many people forget this. Just last Friday, people lined up at midnight outside Wal-Mart and bought everything on their Christmas list in a six hour blur of big screen T.V.s and elbows. Others rushed out to buy a Christmas tree, and decked their house in every last light they could find in the attack. And, by Friday evening, they were “done” preparing for Christmas and back to life as usual.
My own personal version of this would be when my grandma gives me one of those “Christmas Countdown Chocolate Calendars,” the ones with a piece of chocolate behind each day leading up to Christmas—and its gone by December 5th! People no longer spend all of Advent preparing for the birth of Jesus Christ, they do what needs to be done, as fast as possible, and then forget he’s coming until the 23rd.
Advent is four weeks long (and so are a lot of Christmas sales!) and as difficult as it may be, we should try to keep that in mind. Instead of setting up the house or buying all the gifts in one day, spread it out! Enjoy the preparations. Do something small every day in anticipation for the birth of Christ. Make an Advent wreath with your family (or roommates!) and light a candle at dinner; say an extra prayer every evening; pray Vespers before Mass.
The most important things is that we don’t fall asleep in the wait for Jesus, that we remember every day—not just when they light the Advent wreath at Mass on Sunday or when The Grinch is on TV or Wal-Mart has a big sale—that Christ is coming and we must be ready. And keep it to one piece of chocolate a day from the Advent calendar. Your stomach will thank you and you’ll have more candy toward the end of the four weeks!
Eileen Welch is an undergraduate student at The Catholic University of America and is Regent of Catholic Daughters Court Catholic University