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.