We have many different calendars in our lives: The yearly calendar, the fiscal calendar, the school calendar. One calendar that affects all Catholics is what we call, “The Liturgical Calendar”. This is the calendar that informs us what spiritual event or Saint we celebrate on each day of the year. For example, the liturgical calendar informs us what day we celebrate Easter, each year.
Many Catholics are unaware that there are many different celebrations throughout the entire year: The feast day of St. Francis (October 4), the feast day of Nativity of Mary (September 8), the feast day of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (June 8). Because we have so many different feast days that have been added to the calendar over the 2,000 year history of the Church, it is rare that anything would be added to the calendar (not unlike a family’s calendar). Admittedly, not all of these feast days are Holy Days of Obligation, however, they are still of great importance.
On March 3, 2018, Pope Francis made the rare move and actually added a feast day to the official calendar of the Church. He declared that every Monday after Pentecost would be celebrated as “Mary, Mother of the Church.” The Blessed Virgin Mary has the most feast days of any Saint in our Church (18, before this new celebration), and with good reason. So, it is even more surprising that, yet another Marian feast day would be added to the calendar. However, Pope Francis truly felt this conviction from the Holy Spirit to bring the new feast day to the Church.
We know that Mary is the Mother of God in that she is the mother of Jesus and Jesus is God (Mary, Mother of God feast day is January 1st). She has always been taught to be the Mother of the Church as well, going back to St. Augustine (d. 430 AD). In the proclamation about this new feast day, it was written, “Indeed, the Mother standing beneath the cross (cf. Jn 19:25), accepted her Son’s testament of love and welcomed all people in the person of the beloved disciple as sons and daughters to be reborn unto life eternal. She thus became the tender Mother of the Church which Christ begot on the cross handing on the Spirit. Christ, in turn, in the beloved disciple, chose all disciples as ministers of his love towards his Mother, entrusting her to them so that they might welcome her with filial affection.” As Jesus was on the cross, he said to John, “Behold, your mother.” And with that statement, Mary became the one to care for the entire Church.
“This celebration will help us to remember that growth in the Christian life must be anchored to the Mystery of the Cross, to the oblation of Christ in the Eucharistic Banquet and to the Mother of the Redeemer and Mother of the Redeemed.” So it is with great joy that every year on the Monday after Pentecost, we will celebrate Mary, Mother of the Church.
At the beginning of every Mass, we make the sign of the cross. Following that, is the first greeting. There are several different options for the priest to greet the people: “The Lord be with you,” or “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” or “The grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
These greetings are not merely creations of the priest at the moment. Rather, they come directly from the Bible. St. Paul, in his letters, often begins with a salutation, similar to the beginning of our letters today when we write, “Dear So-and-so.” However, if we pay attention to the greetings of St. Paul, they are not simply a way to say “hello” to one another, they are a theological statement.
St. Paul wants his readers to recognize that even in their greeting they are living in the grace of God. St. Paul was so connected to Jesus Christ, that he would not forget about Jesus, even when writing to others. It was Jesus Christ who taught him how to treat his neighbors, how to treat the Romans and the Ephesians; how to love the Corinthians and the Thessalonians. It was Jesus Christ who shaped everything in his life, including his friendships.
And so, at the beginning of each Mass that we Catholics celebrate, we greet each other, not as mere acquaintances, but as people who have been baptized into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As a result, when we begin our Mass, we do not merely say “hello” to each other, but rather, we greet one another in the grace of Jesus. This type of greeting ought to remind us why we are gathered together each Sunday morning. We are not a social club, but a people who know that God loves us and that we are gathering to give God worship, praise, and honor.
And so, the priest greets the people in the grace of God and the people respond, “And with your spirit.” This is a rather recent re-translation of the Mass and its meaning is much more obvious than in the previous translation. When the people say “spirit,” we are acknowledging that we are entering into a spiritual reality, a spiritual encounter with the true and living God. We are preparing for a moment of grace as we celebrate the Mass together.
So at the beginning of Mass, let us all pay attention to the words we are using to greet one another and let us see that we gather as a people prepared to encounter the grace of the divine.
As was mentioned in last week’s bulletin, some of our young people will be receiving their First Communion this weekend. It is a great time for not only celebration, but also for all of us to reflect on what Holy Communion means for us in our faith.
First, we make a distinction in our faith between the terms “Eucharist” and “Communion.” When the Church uses the term “Eucharist,” the first meaning of the word is the entire celebration of the mass. This might surprise people because we often use the term “Eucharist” to refer to the consecrated host, however, the first meaning of the term Eucharist is the entire celebration of the mass from the opening hymn to the proclamation to “Go in peace.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The Eucharistic celebration always includes: the proclamation of the Word of God; thanksgiving to God the Father for all his benefits, above all the gift of his Son; the consecration of bread and wine; and participation in the liturgical banquet by receiving the Lord's body and blood. These elements constitute one single act of worship.” (CCC 1408).
The term “Communion” or “Holy Communion” refers to the part of the Eucharist where Catholics, who are properly prepared, come forward to receive communion. The term “communion” is an interesting phrase. When we break down the term “communion” we conjoin two words “union” and the prefix “com.” The term “union” is rather obvious; it is the act of joining together. The prefix “com” means “with.” So, when we put the two together, we see that communion literally means “joining with.”
In our Catholic faith, we recognize that when one comes forward to receive Holy Communion, there is a “joining with” that occurs. In fact, there are two “joining with” events that occur. First, when we receive Communion, there is a joining with our Lord and God. The consecrated host may appear to be bread, however we understand from the words of our Lord at the Last Supper that it is not merely bread, but rather it is the real presence of Jesus Christ. So when we receive Holy Communion, we are uniting ourselves to the very person of Jesus Christ. It is very important that we see with the eyes of our hearts that this is the God who died for us and rose from the dead for us.
The second “joining with” that occurs when we receive Holy Communion is that we are joined with all the other people who receive communion. We are one Church in the Body of Christ, and thus, when we receive communion, we become united with all the members of that Body, both those who are on earth now as well as those who have gone before us and are in heaven: all of our loved ones who are in heaven and the Saints. So we must see that intimate connection as well.
This weekend, please pray for those young people who are receiving Communion for the first time at the Eucharist. Let us pray for our parish and the whole world, that we might all grow in our appreciation of the great gift that it is to receive Holy Communion.
A friend of mine here in the Twin Cities takes his Catholic faith seriously and works to live it out on a daily basis. By this, I do not mean that he only spends time praying his rosary (though he does do this), but he also realizes that our Catholic faith is not something that is discovered by accident, but has been intentionally shared from one generation to the next. As a result, he has stumbled upon one of the most authentically Catholic practices: porch ministry.
He has six children and works full time. As a result, he does not have much free time to go out and about. Rather, he is one who invites in. During the spring, summer and fall months (and sometimes winter), he invites men over to have dinner with his family and then retreat to the porch for time to chat. The conversation usually starts with the simple enjoyments of life, such as sports, or movies. Very quickly, though, the conversation will move to the much more important elements of life: growing-up, maturing as a man, being a father, living the Catholic faith, encounters in prayer, etc. What makes this particularly important is that he will intentionally invite younger generations to be a part of this conversation. He recognizes that it is essential that we mentor the younger generations in the Catholic faith beyond the catechesis that we receive at school or at religious education.
It is very tempting to complain about the lack of practicing Catholics among the younger generations. It is as easy as complaining about blizzards in April. Though, I see Christ as responding to us with the question: What are you doing to mentor them? And there is the key...mentoring. The younger generation needs not only information, but the environments to learn from the Catholics who are actually living the faith, who are practicing the faith from day-to-day. Their encounters with the faith cannot only be the priest’s homily on Sundays and the informational websites that Google prioritizes for them. They need the previous generation to actually mentor them.
I encourage all of the Catholics here at Nativity of Mary, and beyond, to make the time to mentor the younger generations. Welcome not only your peers to dinner, but welcome those who are younger than you. Share your wisdom with them. Enjoy their company. Build the relationships.
I know that for myself, as a priest, I am indebted to many of the veteran priests who are in their twilight years for reaching out to me. I still meet with some of my brother priests who are in their nineties. When I was newly ordained, I would never have thought to invite myself over to their parish for dinner, but they reached out to me. From them, I learned not only the data of our Archdiocese, but also the spiritual wisdom they gained from years of experience.
This ought to be the case for living our lives as Catholics. Resist the temptation to only have friends of the same generation. Recognize our opportunity to foster deeper relationships that allow the Holy Spirit to work through us to mentor the next generation of Catholics.
Sadly, we live in a world that will often choose vengeance over mercy. As a consequence, we can sometimes have a difficult time even believing in mercy. This expounds the fact that we need to celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday all the more.
As I mentioned in the bulletin last week, there is a chaplet that we can pray to meditate on the mercy of God. The closing prayer of the chaplet is a revelation of the power of God’s mercy:
“Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion — inexhaustible, look
kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit
ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.”
This prayer says that God’s mercy is inexhaustible. We humans all have our limits. Some people are more merciful than others, though we all have our limits. This is not the case with God. Like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, our God will only welcome us back if we submit ourselves to his mercy for the wrong we have done.
This may be difficult for us to believe. It may be even intimidating to think that there is this powerful mercy for us. That is why the closing prayer of the chaplet
requests for “confidence” as we put ourselves before the mercy of God.
I invite you to join us all in prayer this Sunday at 3 PM, either in person at the church or wherever you find yourself. Join the entire Church throughout the world in praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet so that we might open ourselves to the mercy that we all need.
May God bless you on this day of great mercy and may God’s love direct your minds & hearts.
- Fr. Gjengdahl
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!