“Dear friends, at every moment the earth is full of the mercy of God, and nature itself is a lesson for all the faithful in the worship of God. The heavens, the sea and all that is in them bear witness to the goodness and omnipotence of their Creator, and the marvelous beauty of the elements as they obey him demands from the intelligent creation a fitting expression of its gratitude.
But with the return of that season marked out in a special way by the mystery of our redemption, and of the days that lead up to the paschal feast, we are summoned more urgently to prepare ourselves by a purification of spirit. The special note of the paschal feast is this: the whole Church rejoices in the forgiveness of sins. It rejoices in the forgiveness not only of those who are then reborn in holy baptism but also of those who are already numbered among God’s adopted children.
Initially, men are made new by the rebirth of baptism. Yet there still is required a daily renewal to repair the shortcomings of our mortal nature, and whatever degree of progress has been made there is no one who should not be more advanced. All must therefore strive to ensure that on the day of redemption no one may be found in the sins of his former life.
Dear friends, what the Christian should be doing at all times should be done now with greater care and devotion, so that the Lenten fast enjoined by the apostles may be fulfilled, not simply by abstinence from food but above all by the renunciation of sin.
There is no more profitable practice as a companion to holy and spiritual fasting than that of alms-giving. This embraces under the single name of mercy many excellent works of devotion, so that the good intentions of all the faithful may be of equal value, even where their means are not. The love that we owe both God and man is always free from any obstacle that would prevent us from having a good intention. The angels sang: Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth. The person who shows love and compassion to those in any kind of affliction is blessed, not only with the virtue of good will but also with the gift of peace.
The works of mercy are innumerable. Their very variety brings this advantage to those who are true Christians, that in the matter of alms-giving not only the rich and affluent but also those of average means and the poor are able to play their part. Those who are unequal in their capacity to give can be equal in the love within their hearts.”
Category Archives: Lent
For Lent this year, I’ve been learning more about Ignatian spirituality…that is, the way of prayer and approaching God pioneered by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. One of the things that St. Ignatius suggests is a nightly “examen”. In this examen, he proposes that at least once a day, we stop to truly be aware of how the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives, and what we are being called to.
I find it to be an appropriate practice for the season we’re in–not just the season of Lent, but the season of transition that the Church is in. It seems pretty clear to me that in the days since the Holy Father announced his abdication, the Catholic Church has been undergoing a lot of spiritual warfare. I think that calls for a renewed awareness, and a renewed focus on the work of the Lord…after all, we’ve all been asked–by the Pope, by the bishops, by priests–to be in prayer for the Conclave and for the eventual new Successor of St. Peter, and I think the kind of intense prayer the hour calls for would be helped by starting with a personal examination.
So here, in the words of St. Ignatius, are the steps to an “examen.” Let us turn our eyes to Jesus, and let us pray for His Bride…
The First Point is to give thanks to God our Lord for the benefits I have received.
The Second is to ask grace to know my sins and rid myself of them.
The Third is to ask an account of my soul from the hour of rising to the present examen, hour by hour or period by period; first as to thoughts, then words, then deeds in the same order as was given for the particular examination.
The Fourth is to ask pardon of God our Lord for my faults.
The Fifth, is to resolve, with His grace, to amend them. Close with an Our Father.
Today marked another important step on our journey to the Catholic Church. We participated in two ceremonies: the Rite of Sending and the Call to Continued Conversion. We are now officially candidates to receive the Sacraments of Initiation into the Church (Confirmation & Eucharist)!
As I mentioned earlier, Lent marks the final stage of the journey of conversion to Catholicism. It is a 40-day season of “counting the cost”, so to speak, which echoes the 40 days Christ was tempted in the desert. On this first Sunday in Lent, both the parish we have been attending and the Archdiocese of Boston marked this step for all those who are making the same transition we are.
First, at this morning’s Mass, we went through the Rite of Sending: our sponsors presented us, and our parish prayed for us and sent us out to the Cathedral (where we would go this afternoon). Fr. John asked our sponsors to affirm that we have learned about the Catholic faith and are seeking to live our lives in accordance with the Gospel. He then prayed “even though we are already one with them in Christ through baptism”, that God would prepare our hearts for this new step of faith of being in full-communion with the Catholic Church.
Later this afternoon, we went to the Cathedral of the Holy
Cross, the central church for the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston (and the home church of our Archbishop). We were welcomed by Sean Cardinal O’Malley, the Archbishop of Boston. After being presented again by our sponsors, Cardinal O’Malley gave us the Call to Continued Conversion, in which he challenged us to use this season of Lent as a time to reflect deeply on Christ’s life, as well as on this major step of faith that we will take at the Easter Vigil. He then officially
pronounced us as candidates to receive Confirmation and Eucharist. It was amazing to see hundreds of people from around the greater Boston area, all joining the Catholic Church at the same time we are!
One thing that I really appreciate about being brought into the Catholic Church is that we will not be re-Baptized. The Church recognizes our protestant Baptisms as valid, which is why we will only receive two of the three “sacraments of initiation”–Confirmation and Eucharist. This surprised me, because every protestant church that I was ever a part of would have re-baptized a Catholic who converted to being Evangelical…in fact, I remember being at many such Baptisms. Catholics have a much, much higher view of Baptism, and it would have made more sense to me that they would be the ones who insisted that the sacrament be done specifically in their church…instead, they are the ones who recognize that Christ is at work throughout the world, often in ways we can’t fully understand.
We are incredibly excited! We are so close to finally being in full-communion with the Catholic Church! Just a few short weeks to go…
CNN’s Belief Blog has a column this weekend by J. Wilson, a guy who, for Lent last year, had absolutely no food, just beer. You can read it here. A self-acknowledged “beer geek”, his motivation was his interest in the German Doppelbock style of beer, which, legend has it, was developed by 17th century monks to sustain them during their Lenten fasts.
Is it a gimmicky piece? Sure. But I think he manages to capture a bit of the heart of this season’s devotional practices, even if he’s no theologian: “It left me with the realization that the monks must have been keenly aware of their own humanity and imperfections. In order to refocus on God, they engaged this annual practice not only to endure sacrifice, but to stress and rediscover their own shortcomings in an effort to continually refine themselves.”
Now I wonder if I can convince the Missus to let me try this next Lent…
“ The ashes effected something in me more than a smudge on my forehead. I had felt, if only for a moment, the thing that I wished most earnestly to be exempted from: death.”– More great thoughts on Lent via Ignatius Press, this time from author Thomas Howard: http://www.ignatiusinsight.com/features2011/thoward_greatlent_mar2011.asp
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return ~Genesis 3:19
The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise ~ Psalm 51:18
Today, around the world, the following awkward interaction will occur thousands, if not millions of times:
“Hey, you have some sort of smudge on your forehead.”
“Thanks, I know, it’s Ash Wednesday.”
“Oh, uh, ok then…”
Ash Wednesday is set aside for repenting from sin. In light of that, Catholics and other Christians who observe this day have ashes put on their foreheads, hearkening back to the Old Testament practice of “mourning with sackcloth and ashes”. In this country, the typical practice is for a priest to form a cross with the ashes, though in other countries the ashes are sometimes just sprinkled onto one’s head. The practice of receiving ashes on the first day of Lent goes back at least a thousand years, having probably been started by Pope Urban II.
While placing ashes on someone’s forehead, the priest will traditionally say “Remember, oh man, that thou art dust, and to dust ye shall return.” In this way, we are reminded of human frailty and mortality. We are reminded that the wages of sin is death, and that we are all in need of Salvation.
Thankfully, the somberness and sadness that come with Ash Wednesday are only the beginning of the story: we have only begun to turn our eyes to the One who overcame temptation in the desert. As we repent of our sins today, we are one step closer to Holy Week, and thus one step closer to celebrating the death and glorious resurrection of our Lord and Savior…
Anyone may receive ashes today–you do not have to be Catholic. Many parishes will have “imposition of ashes” throughout the day, so find a local parish and join us on the Lenten journey to Easter!
In a couple of days, people who think they’re clever or original will begin to post the following on Facebook: “I’m giving up homework for Lent”, “This year, I’m giving up religion”, “I’m giving up on giving up!”, or some variation thereof. While not exactly hilarious, these statuses give us some real insight into how most people view Lent: all they really know is that you pick something you like and don’t have it for a few weeks, like chocolate or beer. No one’s really sure why you do that other than, well, it’s Lent…”Sounds like nothing but a bunch of goofy religiosity to me!”
And that’s a shame, because the season of Lent is one of the greatest opportunities we have each year for spiritual renewal.
Lent is the 40 days immediately preceding Easter (it’s actually 46, but you don’t count Sundays). Why 40? For a number of reasons, but mainly to commemorate the 40 days that Christ was tempted in the desert. This commemoration of Christ’s 40 day fast is where the practice of “giving something up for Lent” (as well as fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and not eating meat on Fridays in Lent) came from. We know that Lent was observed throughout the Christian Church by the 4th century, and there is evidence that the practice may date back to the Apostles themselves.
Lent is, first and foremost, a season of self-examination and repentance for sin; a time of year when we concentrate, in a more focused way, on discerning where in our lives we are not living up to what Christ calls us to and then turning back to Him. It is also a time when we work on gaining in virtue in our lives, especially the virtue of self-control.
While this can sound rather dour and gloomy (who wants to think about all the ways they’ve sinned recently?), it is actually a season of great joy for many believers: as we turn from our own ways and return to holiness, we find that we are embraced by the Father, just as the prodigal son was. We feel the presence of the Holy Spirit, giving us strength to keep the fasts. We are drawn ever nearer to Christ as we not only remember His triumph in the wilderness, but look forward to Holy Week, when we will celebrate His death, burial, and glorious Resurrection.
Lent begins on Wednesday, which is traditionally called “Ash Wednesday”. You’ve undoubtedly seen people walking around with black smudges on their foreheads on this day: priests will make a cross with ashes, usually saying “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” You do not have to be Catholic to receive ashes (unlike the Eucharist, it is not a sacrament, so find a parish near you and join the Lenten season!)
This Lent will be especially meaningful for Fallon and I as we enter in to the final leg of our journey to the Catholic Church. Some scholars believe that Lent was originally designed for “catechumens” (those who are in the process of joining the Church) as a time of “counting the costs” to follow Christ, before partaking of the Sacraments at the Easter Vigil service. Over the next few weeks, we will be a part of several traditional ceremonies that will culminate on the night before Easter. We are thrilled to finally be entering this phase!
So, what are you giving up for Lent?