Twice a year, we Catholics are obliged to fast from eating: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Naturally, this seems like a peculiar practice. When we do not understand the “why” behind our practices, many people can be tempted to ignore the practice and even become a detractor of the practice. So what is fasting and why do we fast?
Fasting is the refraining from eating for a set period of time. In the Catholic faith, we define it as consuming only one meal as well as two other smaller meals that would not together equal a full meal. It should also be noted, that only those who are ages 18-59 are obliged by the Church to fast, however, if you are under the age of 18 and mom decides that you are to fast, you should probably follow her direction.
So now for the bigger question: Why do we fast?
First, let us turn to the Bible. In the Matthew 6:16, Jesus says, “When you fast…” Notice here, Jesus does not say, “If you fast,” he says, “When you fast.” As Jesus is speaking to his disciples, there is the expectation that they will be fasting.
One reason for fasting is to gain self-mastery. We all have passions or desires for various things. However, these desires can grow out of control and eventually become destructive. For example, the desire to have money is not, in itself, evil. However, if that desire is uncontrolled, then we will be tempted to steal money that does not belong to us and ultimately that desire leads to our suffering. If we have periods where we resist our desires, we can put them under control. Thus, when we fast, we are learning to have self-mastery.
As second reason for our fasting is for discernment. We see in Acts 13 that the Apostles were fasting before they made the decision about Judas’ replacement. The fasting was a way for them to open themselves to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. When we fast, we necessarily turn to God to fill us. We do not have the assistance of the things of the world and we are more oriented toward the things of heaven.
Finally, fasting is a form of worship. Many people think about the self-benefit for every action. However, fasting is a sacrifice for God. All worship is about someone else and when we fast, we do not do it for ourselves, but rather we do it for God. If we make this sacrifice of food, we turn the day into a form of worship.
So, as we prepare for our second day of fasting this Lent, Good Friday, let us understand the “why” behind our action and so make the fast an act of holiness. May God continue to bless you with his mercy and love this Lent so that you might rejoice with him wholeheartedly in his Easter resurrection.
Nota Bene: We as Catholics are obliged to fast for one hour before we receive Holy Communion. More on this in a future article.
The Fourth Sunday of Lent each year is called “Laetare Sunday,” which means “Rejoice Sunday.” This is the Sunday where the priest is allowed to wear rose colored vestments, as opposed to the violet vestments. The name “Laetare
Sunday” comes from the introit (entrance antiphon) which sets the tenor for
the entire mass. The introit comes from Isaiah and reads:
Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all who were in mourning;
exalt and be satisfied at her consoling breast.
In the middle of our Lenten fasting and penance, we are reminded to rejoice. This may seem contradictory, however, it is a Catholic reality. In the middle of suffering, we are still a people who rejoice...why? We are still able to rejoice because we know the reality is that Jesus is risen and that he offers us forgiveness for our sins.
It often happens that people have a sin that they regularly commit, a sin that doesn’t seem like it is going away. When this happens, many people react in one of two ways: Either they deny that the sin is actually a sin in an attempt to quiet their conscience or they will stop trying to eliminate the sin thus allowing it to continue on. I say that these are both wrong because neither acknowledges the essential element to our sins, namely, Jesus Christ.
Our Lord Jesus Christ is more powerful than any sin that we can commit. He is more powerful than all of the sins of the entire world. He is the one to whom we need to reach out to in prayer. He is the one that is able to bring us the hope of a conversion. He is the one who conquered sin and death on that Easter Sunday. We must not be tricked into thinking that our sin is more powerful than Jesus and his forgiveness.
And so, on this Sunday, the Church reminds us to rejoice because the celebration of God’s death of sin is near to us again and we can truly be a people of hope.
In Lent, we are often presented with the image of the desert. Even the decorations around our Sanctuary elicit that idea of the desert. The desert is a place of dryness and desolation. This is representative of what the Israelites experienced for 40 years after their escape from Egypt and it is representative of Jesus’ 40 days in the desert where he fasted and prayed.
This image can also be representative of what can happen to us in our spiritual lives. The truth is that almost every great Saint and every Catholic has gone through periods of time where their spiritual life felt dry. By “dry,” I mean that our relationship with God can feel as if it is without any fire or life. Our time of prayer can feel as dehydrated as our hands in the dead of winter. It feels like prayer does nothing to lift us up, nor does it make us feel at peace as it once did. All of this can lead to frustration, anger, and resentment toward God.
If this occurs, the first thing that we must do is resist the temptation to dismiss prayer. We will be tempted to set aside prayer as being “useless” because we are not feeling any consolation or response. Resist this temptation. If we are not approaching God, how can we expect our relationship with him to grow? If we shut off our time for connection with him, how can we ever expect that passion to return? Yes, it does mean that we will not be “productive” in the traditional sense. However, it is in these moments where God is working.
Similar to a seed that is planted, it’s growth is invisible. It is preparing under ground for its beautiful eruption. The work must be done in quiet and in silence. If the seed is disturbed, it will not reach its full potential, and so the gardener must wait. The seed still needs water and it still needs warmth, but it must work in quiet—so too with our souls.
There are times that God will be working in ways that we cannot perceive. We must still water our relationship with God through prayer. We must still give it heat by staying close to our Lord in the Eucharist. At time when God is ready, all of that preparation will result in something beautiful that will bear fruit for ourselves and the whole Church.
If you experience this time of dryness, remember to resist the temptation to distance yourself from prayer, rather, pursue your relationship with God all the more. If we do this, the harvest will be abundant.
In my years teaching at Saint Thomas Academy, there were times that I would catch students breaking rules. It was not something that I desired to have happen, however, it was part of trying to form the students to be good adults in our world. A majority of the time, when a student was caught, his first reaction was to deny any wrongdoing. He might respond by saying, “It wasn’t me!” or “I don’t know what happened!” or the most common, “Huh?”
I remember one time, however, when I was walking around a corner and caught a student doing something he should not have done. I confronted him and his reaction truly shocked me...he admitted to what he had done and said that he would accept whatever punishment I gave him. Truly, I did not know how to react. My mind was racing as to how I should respond, and I finally settled on just talking with him briefly and sending him on his way. This boy clearly knew that what he had done was wrong, admitted to it, and made the commitment to me to change. This is how our Lord works with us.
Our Lord truly wants us to being the best of ourselves. He wants us to be better than we’ve ever been. And this starts with admissions of our failures, both our failures to act and our failures of inaction. It is not easy for us to do, however, this is how we change, how we grow, how we become the best version of ourselves.
We admit our faults at the beginning of every mass as the priest says, “Let us acknowledge our sins and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.” It is during that time when we think about the sins we have committed through what we have done and what we have failed to do. We openly admit to God our failures. And, for the mortal sins that we have committed, we even have the sacrament of Reconciliation where we do not hide behind excuses, but simply admit to our sins.
We do this, as Catholics, not because we dwell on our sins, but because we know this is only met with forgiveness from Jesus Christ. Jesus’ entire mission is to bring forgiveness and peace to each and every person. We need only be willing to let our guard down, our excuses, our hiding and like a loving Father, God will bring us his mercy.
This Lent, let us all be ready to admit our sins and receive what is at the heart of our God...forgiveness.
During Lent, we as Catholics choose a penance to perform. We do this to begin to make reparations for our sins as well as to learn to control. Many times, these penances seem like small actions, but can be rather difficult, such as giving up television or music in the car. Sometimes these penances are more taxing, like giving up meat for the entirety of Lent. Sometimes these penances are weekly (or daily) to serve the poor and needy throughout Lent.
One question that I receive with some regularity is, “Do I have to do my penance on Sundays during Lent or not?”
The source of this question arises from the calculations of the 40 days of Lent. If one counts the days between Ash Wednesday and Holy Saturday, the total is 46. We do not count the Sundays because Sunday is the day that Jesus rose from the dead and thus is a miniature celebration. As a result, people want to know, “Do I have to do my penance on Sundays during Lent or not?”
The answer is that there is no official rule.
What I customarily will inform people is that you have to ask yourself, “What will help me grow in love of God and love of neighbor?” The answer to this question will be different for each person. Some will chose to suspend their penance to properly celebrate the resurrection (not for selfish reasons). Others will choose to continue their penance during the Sundays because it will help them to keep focused on the season of Lent and better build their relationship with God.
So, for yourself, pray and ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit to know what will be best for you.
Regardless of what you choose, always choose that which will lead you to Jesus, because there is lasting peace and joy found in Jesus than any pleasure of this world.
May you have a blessed Lent and a joyful Easter!
About a year ago, a friend of mine was beside himself. He was bothered by the actions of his 25-year-old daughter, for she had just received her first tattoo. He could not believe that his daughter would do this. Before making a judgement, I asked him what the tattoo was depicting. He said it wasn’t an image, but rather, was a phrase in Latin: “Memento mori” (translated, it says “remember death”).
I had to laugh a little as I said to him, “Do you remember what Catholics around the world are told every Ash Wednesday?” He paused and repeated, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
To an outsider, or the uniformed, this phrase can appear to be one of the most morbid statements, however, for the Catholic, this is a reminder that this life is passing away. All of the things of this world will pass away and become naught. Even the great spectacle of the Super Bowl will pass away and fade. Just as many people don’t remember much of the Super Bowl here in Minneapolis in 1992, so too, this one will fade from memory.
All the fun and the entertainment that we have here on Earth is good, however, it can easily distract us from focusing on that which is most important. We too often prioritize that which is temporary over that which is eternal. And so we have this season to remind us to focus on the best of things. It is like reminding a child of the importance of investing money rather than spending it on frivolous entertainment that will pass away.
I think of my youth, when I “knew” that the best use of my money was to purchase a 1998 Vikings NFC Central Champions shirt after their 15-1 season. I knew this was the best way to use my money...however, now, I wish I had invested that money rather than acquire a shirt that is now used only to polish my shoes.
As we prepare for Lent, many of us look for things to “give up.” I encourage you, however, to focus on your heart, your mind, and your soul. Examine your life and see what things have caused you to lose sight of the greatest good—the good of God’s love and mercy for you. Those are the things we need to set aside this Lent.
Make this Lent a season to help you refocus and remember that all that we see around us is passing away and that there is one thing that will not pass away, the love God has for us.
This week, we have our annual Catholic Services Appeal. It has been a recurring event in the Archdiocese for as long as I can remember. I recall my time as a child sitting in the pew and listening to a verbal reading of the appeal by the priest. Then, I recall hearing the audio-only versions some years after that. And then finally, the exciting years of the video presentations!
While I did enjoy a respite from Father’s homilies, I confess that I was less than engaged in the presentations that were put before me. However, what I did not realize, was that despite my distracted attention, these videos were having an impact on me. I can recall people speaking, sometimes married couples, the bishop, or a student, who spoke about the impact that this financial appeal had directly on their lives. While I might not have remembered the specifics of each appeal, I knew that the requests for financial assistance were not simply another handout. Even my young mind knew that these were going to some meaningful mission of the Church.
Now, sitting here as a priest, and having been the beneficiary of these generous donations, I give extra attention to the messages for the specific reason that I have a personal connection. I realize how the gifts of previous generations of Catholics have aided the mission of the Church here in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. So I ask you to pay attention to the connection you have with these ministries.
If you have been to a mass in the Archdiocese, you have been helped by this appeal. The priest who presided at mass was trained with donations from the Catholic Services Appeal. If you have had a visit from a priest at the hospital (who was not your pastor), you have been helped by this appeal. The priests who assist at prisons and missions are supported with donations from the Catholic Services Appeal. If you know someone who has attended a Catholic high school, you have been helped by this appeal. Many students whose families are in financial difficulties have received scholarships and thus are better trained citizens of our community. If you have been married in the Archdiocese, the marriage preparation retreats and programing are supported by this appeal.
The beauty of the Catholic Church is that we are all connected as one body. In helping one portion of the body, we inevitably help ourselves. It is in giving that we receive—we receive the grace, the connection and the love for which God has made us.
And so, I ask of you to examine the Catholic Services Appeal along with Jesus. Pray to our Lord, asking him how you should assist. Whatever Jesus asks of you, will only be for your good as well as the good of others around us. May God bless you for your generosity to our parish, our community and our Archdiocese.
In our Catholic mass, or other liturgies that we have in our Catholic faith, the presider begins with one of 3 options:
· “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God
and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
· “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the
Lord Jesus Christ.”
· “The Lord be with you.”
Notice how we do not begin mass with a casual “Hello” or “How are you doing?” Even the first words that we say reveal to us why we have come together. We are gathering for something that is not pedestrian, but rather, something spiritual. We are gathering to have an encounter with the divine, and thus, we even greet each other in this unique way.
The first and second options come directly from the writings of St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians, Galatians and Ephesians. Paul starts his letter with this very greeting. He wants the readers of the letter to put themselves in the mind of God as they read the words. St. Paul wants them to realize that he is writing to them about Godly things. As they read his letter and hear his words, they should be in the mindset of God’s love for them.
The third option comes from the Old Testament in the book of Ruth and Second Chronicles. In a similar way to the first greeting, we see people from the Old Testament greet one another with this statement, “The Lord be with you,” to remind both people that God is present there, even in their brief encounter with each other.
And so, in the Catholic mass, and liturgies, we begin with this greeting and the congregation responds, “And with your spirit.” This recent re-translation of the Latin again reveals the spiritual reason for our gather.
When we stop and realize what we are saying to each other, we can see how incredible these greetings truly are. As we begin each mass, or any of our liturgies, let us not miss the important spiritual reason for our greeting and our gathering. Then, let us give glory to God together and experience the great mercy and love He has for each of us.
The Lord be with you, Nativity.
A year ago, Pope Francis was preaching at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and he said, “Jesus Christ manifested himself; we are invited to get to know him, to recognize him in our lives...is Jesus Christ at the center of my life?”
As Catholics, we often speak about the importance of having Jesus at the center of our lives, but why? Why should Jesus be at the center of my life? We need Jesus at the center, because it is Jesus Christ who reveals to us the best life, the path to happiness that we all desire. When my life is centered around Jesus, then I know that I have the anchor to keep me stable in times of distress, hurt, or suffering. I have the guide to help me make the moral decision. I have the Savior who heals my wounds and welcomes me into his heart.
Just as the sun is the center of the solar system and all planets orbit around it, so too it should be with the Son and our lives orbit around him.
This understanding is part of the motivation to moving the tabernacle to the center of our church Sanctuary. The
tabernacle is where we place the Eucharist after communion. The Eucharist that we receive at communion is not a symbol, but is real. The Eucharist is Jesus Christ: body, blood, soul and divinity. And so, at the conclusion of communion, we place the Eucharist in the tabernacle where He is present for our worship. By placing the tabernacle at the center, we put into our architecture the teachings of our faith: Christ should be at the center of our lives.
As Pope Francis said, when Christ is at the center of your life, “you will never be disappointed.”
So as you enter our church, I encourage you to see the tabernacle, genuflect and ask yourself that question that Pope Francis asked of each of us: “Is Jesus Christ at the center of my life?”
Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany, when the message of Jesus Christ reached beyond the Jewish people, to even those who were “outsiders” to the message of the Messiah. The “Three Wisemen” represent those who were not part of the Abrahamic faith and they reveal that God has come to save them.
Today, in our community and in our state, there are people who are considered to be legally “outsiders” however, they are truly people of our spiritual family and have only experienced our country. I am speaking of the “Dreamers,” those people who are/were young immigrants, brought to the United States by their families when they were only children. Because they were young, it was not their conscious decision to enter the United States and this is the only community and country they have ever known. Because of their experience, the United States of America is home.
Mindful of the needs of these young people and inspired by the love of Jesus Christ, the bishops of Minnesota are encouraging all of us to support the Dream Act of 2017 which opens up a path to citizenship for the “Dreamers”. You can contact your representatives via email or a postcard. All of the information can be found on our parish website under the “Useful Links” tab and the “Archdiocesan Announcements” link along with a video from Archbishop Hebda and Bishop Cozzens.
Through the intercession of the Holy Family, who were migrants themselves, let us ask our Lord to be with all
migrants, that they may find safe passage and a loving community.