This Wednesday, Catholics throughout the world will begin our great period of penance, prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It is modeled after Jesus Christ’s 40 days in the desert. The Gospel of Matthew relates, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil and he fasted forty days and forty nights" (Matthew 4:1-2). During this time, Jesus prepared himself through these actions to embrace his mission as savior. And so too, we enter into our own 40 days in the desert with the intention of removing that which is an obstacle to our relationship with God and embracing that which makes us more Christ-like in our lives.
As Catholics, there are certain requirements as well as suggested practices that we observe during Lent. First, the requirements: Fasting and abstinence from eating meat. Catholics who are over the age of 14 are required to abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all Fridays during Lent.
All Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 are required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Fasting, in this case is defined by the United State Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) as “When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal.” If a person has a medical condition that necessitates eating, such as diabetes, that would be permitted along with medications. These are the minimum requirements for all of us Catholics during the season of Lent. There are, also, areas of recommendations to engage Lent in deeper spiritual way. This would be the common practice of making an extra penance and extra prayers during the season of Lent. For example, it is recommended that Catholics “give up” something that is pleasurable for Lent. This helps the person enter into the spiritual desert with Jesus as well as helps us to order that pleasure. For example, a person may enjoy eating White Castle and while White Castle is very tasty, by sacrificing White Castle for Lent, the person is reminded that all we truly need for ultimate happiness is the love of God, just as Jesus relied only on the love of God during his time in the desert. So it is highly encouraged for Catholics to make an additional sacrifice during Lent.
It is also recommended to add more prayer to the season of Lent. While Catholics should respond to the statement from St. Paul that says we ought to “pray without ceasing” (1 Theselonians 5:17, which I will write about in a later article), we ought to increase our prayer life in some way so that we deepen our relationship with God who is are beginning and our end.
As you prepare for Lent, I pray that you make it a spiritual journey with our Lord that deepens your love for Him who is our savior and our life.
This weekend we begin our 2019 Catholic Services Appeal. While it is tempting to simply hear that it is the “usual request” and either simply give out a sense of routine or to perhaps even pass it off as the usual “ask” that occurs annually. I encourage you to resist this temptation and prayerfully examine the request.
This appeal, as they often state, is designed to assist in the areas of ministry that are not able to be supported by one parish. For example, this annual appeal supports the Archdiocesan mission parish located in Venezuela. Since 1970, the Archdiocese has assisted in this poor region of Venezuela with at least one priest as well as building connections to our Archdiocese. No single parish is able to support this mission, though collectively, we are able to reach out to assist Venezuelans during this significant time of crisis with their spiritual and physical needs.
Also, this mission appeal assists the two seminaries that we have in the Twin Cities. These seminaries are not attached to any single parish and thus do not have the typical consistent donations to aid them. The Catholic Services Appeal aids them in their mission to prepare young men to become priests.
A third, but not final ministry is that of the hospital chaplaincy. In the Twin Cities area, we are blessed with many quality hospitals. It is during those times of illness that we can often feel alone and disconnected from our parish communities. While most of the parishes work to meet the spiritual needs of parishioners who are in hospitals, sometimes the priest or other ministers are unable to be there immediately in a moment of crisis. As a result, we have hospital chaplains who work to meet the spiritual needs. These priests and lay people give of their efforts to help those suffering to be united to Jesus Christ.
There are a total of twenty different ministries that are supported through this annual appeal. It is important for us to approach this request with prayer to the Lord. He will be the one to guide us in our use of our resources for the continuing mission of our parish, our Archdiocese, and the entire Church. May God bless you for your generosity to all.
Click here to watch the 2019 Catholic Services Appeal Video
Click here to help the poor.
Even as a young child, I was interested in bigger questions. As I would mow our yard I would think about deeper questions such as, “What is it that makes humans different from animals?” “Do other material beings have thoughts like we do?” It may have been these types of questions that led me to enjoy both science fiction TV shows as well as philosophy. One question I remember thinking about is “What is time?”
If one turns to multiple sources for a definition, we do not find a single, universal response. However, the general ideas shared in the definitions is simply: A measure of change. Time is a tool by which we measure the changes in the physical universe.
So how ought we understand time in light of God and in light of stewardship?
When God created human beings, He made us to live in time. And what we discover is that time is actually a gift from God. All that we have and all that we are is a pure gift from God, including time. If we think of time as a measure of change, time allows human beings to grow, mature, and actually become better than we are right now. Every second of each day that we have on earth is an opportunity to either become better or become worse than we are at this very moment. So when we think about time in the light of our God, it is such a gift because now we can become more like Jesus each day by our decisions and our actions.
To speak of time in light of God and our idea of stewardship, we ought to see time as a gift for me to use as God desires: Using it to help me become the person I ought to be...become better at loving God and loving my neighbor. This is why we must be people of prayer. We must return to God and ask God how He wants me to use my time this day. Sometimes it is obvious: getting the children to school on time, going to work, returning home to the family. Other times, it’s not as clear: I have a free afternoon, how should I use these couple of hours to become an even better person? How can I use this time to become a saint? This is part of being a good steward of our time.
Time is a gift from God and we are called to be good stewards of even this gift from our loving God. Let us always use this gift in a way that helps us become the people we know we have been made to be, let us use this gift like saints.
When I was young and going to mass on Sundays, I had only met one religious sister in my life. Her name was Sr. Pascaline. I thought she was the last religious sister on earth and once she passed away, I imagined that there would be no more religious sisters on the planet...I was completely wrong. While the numbers of religious sisters and nuns (yes, there is a difference) has been waning, the Holy Spirit has still been actively calling women to the consecrated life...and young women have been responding.
One example of this response is the new religious sisters that have moved into our neighborhood. As many of you know, the Poor Clare religious sisters have had a presence in Bloomington dating back to the large expansion in the 1950’s. Their numbers diminished over the years, yet the sisters played a powerful role in our community. A few years back, the Poor Clares decided to share space with the Franciscan sisters in Rochester, while maintaining their contemplative life. This meant that they needed to discern what God wanted for their convent, located near 88th St. and Penn Avenue. In God’s amazing plan, a group of religious sisters from Peru had begun ministering in the Twin Cities. The Pro Ecclesia Sancta sisters were praying for a place to live and pray. And behold, by God’s grace and the generosity of the Poor Clares, the convent will continue to be just that...a convent for religious sister.
The Pro Ecclesia Sancta sisters will sometimes attend daily mass here at our parish and can be found in the neighborhood. On February 17th, they will be having an open house convent from 10:30am to 1pm. You will be able to meet our new neighbors, have a tour and connect with the wonderful Catholic tradition right here in our own backyard. I pray that many of the families of our parish will be able to meet these sisters and perhaps even the seed of a religious vocation may be planted in the hearts of some of the young ladies of our parish. Please join me in praying for an increase of vocations to the religious life.
A few months ago, we had the first part of our stewardship campaign here at Nativity of Mary. At that time, we focused on the “treasure” portion of stewardship. This weekend, we are focusing on the “time and talent” portion of stewardship.
As you may recall, stewardship is not merely the idea of giving. Rather, like all things in our Catholic life, it begins and ends with God. When we look in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we find that the word “stewardship” is used in several different passages: No. 859, “[The Apostles are] ‘stewards of the mysteries of God’”; 893, “The bishop is the steward of the grace”; 952, “A Christian is a steward of the Lord’s goods”; 1117, “The Church . . . is the faithful steward of God’s mysteries”; 2238, “God has made [those in authority] stewards of his gifts”; 2280, “We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us”.
Notice, that in all of these cases, it all starts with God. To be a steward, one must recognize the truth that all we have comes from God, and this includes our time and our talent. When this recognition happens in our minds, we think about our time and our talents in a much different way: We want to use them properly, we want to care for them and use them with love.
I often liken it to that recognition of all that my parents have done for me. My parents gave me a house to live in, food to eat, the time to play with my friends, the education that I received. If not for my parents, I would not have survived. Because of this recognition, I not only have a greater appreciation for their gifts, but I want to use them in a way that respects why they gave them to me. My parents did not help provide for my housing so that I could use the house in any way I wanted. They provided housing so that I would use it properly, keeping it clean, making my bed, putting away my laundry. My parents did not provide dental care so that I could treat my teeth in any way I desired, but rather, I now had a duty to brush them daily, floss, and visit the dentist every six months (can you tell my mom was a dental hygienist?).
In a similar way, and perhaps a more real way, this is how we are to treat our time and our talents. We should be a people who recognize just how much God has given us out of love. God has blessed each of us in these special ways. And now, we have a moment where we turn to God and ask Him, how do you want me to use my time and my talents.
This week, you have been given a time and talent letter and the purpose is not simply to fill it out, but rather, for it to become a tool for prayer. It is important to turn to God and ask God to show you how to use your time and talent. Perhaps there is a talent that has been hidden in you that God now wants to bring out. Or maybe your life has changed in the past few years and now there is new time available that God is asking you to put to service in a new way.
Each one of us has been gifted by God and we are now stewards of these gifts, meaning that we are not the source nor the end of that gift. Rather, we are caretakers of these gifts and realize the love that is found in each gift. Let us respond to that love by turning to God
Fr. Nels Gjengdahl