A Catholic Convert in Ottawa

Posts Tagged ‘Lent

Through social media alone, we have many choices of whom to follow: actors, athletes, politicians, reporters, and so on. We can choose to receive up-to-the-minute news on their thoughts, opinions, hopes and plans. We can tell the world we liked what we read and even share it with the click of a mouse.

But are we sure we want to model our life and work on those of another person? Are we sure we want to follow that person’s example?

At some point, we all have to choose the path we’ll follow.

Jesus’ disciples knew this well. When Jesus taught his followers, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:48*), explaining that “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:56), many of his disciples walked away. And so Jesus asked the Twelve if they would leave as well. But think about Simon Peter’s answer in John 6:68-69:

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

We might admire others’ way of life, their good works, their values, but only Jesus has “the words of eternal life.” As Peter preached to the Council in Jerusalem, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Just as Joshua (see Joshua 24:14-28) and the prophet Elijah (see 1 Kings 18:20-40) asked the Israelites to choose whom they would follow, we have a choice to make: we can follow the path others have taken, or we can follow God and ask him to guide us in the way that we should go.

As we prepare our hearts during the season of Lent, I pray that we would commit ourselves once more to following the Lord.

“(B)ut as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

~ Joshua 24:15

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)

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Cute as she is, even my bulldog is tempted to steal shoes in order to get a treat.

I might be tempted to buy a milk chocolate bar even though I’m trying to eat better, a book in the discount section of the bookstore when I have a stack at home, or yet another magazine about getting organized. (If no one reading this would be similarly tempted, it’s helpful to remember I’m a neat freak.)

It might seem that people give in to temptation more easily today, but I doubt that’s true. Consider what Oscar Wilde wrote in The Picture of Dorian Gray: “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.” And actress Mae West said, “I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it.”

But giving in to temptation isn’t our only option, as Jesus’ example shows.

Remember that even Jesus was tempted. The Gospel reading for yesterday’s Mass told us Jesus “was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan” (Mark 1:13*). As our parish priest pointed out in his homily, temptation comes in our area of weakness. Matthew 4 tells us Jesus had been fasting for forty days and nights, and Satan first tempted him to satisfy his hunger (Matthew 4:3): “And the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’” Jesus resisted temptation, drawing on the scriptures in his responses to Satan (see Matthew 4).

We need to remind ourselves, as our priest also stressed, that temptation is not sin; we sin when we give in to temptation. If being tempted were the same as sinning, we would not find these words about Jesus in Hebrews 4:15:

For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning.

We can take comfort in the fact that Jesus, in his time on earth, was tempted, and so he knows what we go through. We can remind ourselves that we haven’t sinned until we’ve given in to what tempts us. We can draw strength from Jesus’ example, from the scriptures and from the Catechism. And if we do give in to temptation, we can receive God’s forgiveness through the sacrament of reconciliation and, like King David, ask God to cleanse us of our sins and “put a new and right spirit” in us (see Psalm 51).

(*Scripture quotes and references taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

I may look relaxed on the outside, but I generally feel like I should be doing something. Feeling like a coiled spring has taken its toll, but with the help of physiotherapy, massage and yoga, I’m already starting to feel better.

The first step was choosing to change. And the same holds true for our spiritual health.

As our parish priest pointed out at last night’s Ash Wednesday service, we have a choice to make: we can be the same people at the end of Lent as we are now, or we can choose to examine our lives and make changes during Lent, with God’s help:

  • We can look at how we spend our time. Are we working so many hours that we seldom sit down to dinner with our family?
  • We can consider our relationships. How do we speak to our spouse and children? Do we use our words to build them up or tear them down?
  • We can think about how we use our material blessings. Do we have so much stuff that decluttering is always on the menu? Do we give to our church and to charity?

Lent offers us a great opportunity for a spiritual “house cleaning”—the chance to work on giving up bad habits and establishing good habits that help us make better use of our time, treasure and talents and bring us closer to our family and to God.

I pray that we would decide to be changed people at the end of Lent and that we would let God show us the ways he would have us change.

Go where thou wilt, seek what thou wilt, and thou shalt not find a higher way above, nor a safer way below than the way of the Holy Cross.

~ Thomas à Kempis, quoted in “Celebrate February 2015,” Catholic Digest, January/February 2015

For some ways to observe Lent through penance, prayer and almsgiving, see this checklist on the Held By His Pierced Hands blog.

Shrove Tuesday being tomorrow and Ash Wednesday the following day, the season of Lent is just around the corner.

For some, the start of Lent may be nothing more than a good excuse to eat pancakes or begin the countdown to enjoying Easter treats. Now, I enjoy chocolate eggs just as much as the next person, but Lent should mean so much more.

As Mary Kathleen Glavich, SND, reminds us in The Confirmed Catholic’s Companion: A Guide to Abundant Living, this season is about penance, almsgiving and fasting, with this focus:

Lent is a time of sanctifying our lives in preparation for celebrating Jesus’ glorious resurrection.

And so we’re turning our minds to what we might give up for Lent, such as chocolate, coffee, some screen time, or a habit we want to break. Or maybe we’re considering taking up a spiritual discipline, such as attending morning Mass, taking part in Eucharistic adoration, or praying the rosary a certain number of times each week.

Here are just a few thoughts on ways to mark Lent:

  • Plan to receive the sacrament of reconciliation during regularly scheduled reconciliation times or following our parish’s reconciliation service.
  • Serve at the Ash Wednesday service or a Way of the Cross service.
  • Spend one lunch hour each week attending a midday Mass near our workplace.
  • Take part in a perpetual rosary with fellow members of a parish group or ministry team.
  • Involve our family in planning and preparing meatless meals for Fridays in Lent.
  • Make our favourite specialty coffee or tea at home and collect the amount we would have spent in a jar over the course of Lent, to be donated to charity at Easter.
  • Go through our family’s spring clothes and shoes and donate outgrown but gently used items to charity.
  • Serve a shift at a shelter or soup kitchen with our family or parish group.

I pray that, on our own and within our families, we would find our journey through Lent a time of spiritual growth as we prepare our hearts for Easter.

O Lord, the house of my soul is narrow;

enlarge it, that you may enter in.

It is ruinous, O repair it!

It displeases your sight; I confess it, I know.

But who shall cleanse it, to whom shall I cry but to you?

~ St. Augustine of Hippo, quoted in Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers

 

Recently I was watching the movie Leap Year again. In one scene, the female lead character, Anna, steps in a cow pie while wearing $600 shoes. And the male lead character, Declan, responds, “Just put ’em in the wash; they’ll be grand.”

Obviously, “the wash” isn’t the answer for some stains, like cow manure on $600 shoes, or melted crayon shoved in a pants pocket and exposed to the heat of the dryer, or dye in every colour of the rainbow transferred from black suede gloves to three or four white taekwon-do uniforms (the last two, alas, are examples from my treasure trove of laundry horror stories).

But when it comes to us and our sins, a good wash is just what we need, and just what David asks for in Psalm 51:2, 7*:

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,

and cleanse me from my sin!

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

At my parish this week, someone returned to the Church after being away for many years, not wanting to spend any longer outside the Church. Returning to the Church involves celebrating the sacrament of Reconciliation so that we can have a clean heart–a clean conscience–before God. I know that when I first celebrated Reconciliation, I thought how wonderful it was to hear that all my sins up to that point were forgiven!

As we begin Holy Week, we can ask God to give us a clean heart, as David did, so that we may fully experience the joy of the Easter miracle this weekend. We can spend more time in God’s presence at Eucharistic Adoration, in prayer at home, at confession, and at the various Holy Week services. And we don’t have to give up the spiritual disciplines we’ve added to our lives for Lent just because this season of the liturgical year is drawing to a close.

As we approach Easter, may we bring to God the sacrifice he asks for: a broken and contrite heart (see Psalm 51:17) and a spirit willing to be cleansed and guided.

(*Scripture quotes and reference taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

Here we are on March 10th, and for those of us in the Ottawa area, the ground is nowhere in sight. Although the brown grass should be peeking through the snow by now, Old Man Winter is hanging on and may even bring us more snow.

As much as I love winter, even I’ve had enough of snow and long for an end to boots-and-gloves weather. I look forward to seeing the grass green up and flower stems emerge, and I enjoy poring over my bulb catalogues and envisioning my garden in the spring. So this post title isn’t as strange as it might seem at first glance.

Only I’m not talking about a garden of flowers, but instead the one mentioned in Sirach 40:17:

Kindness is like a garden of blessings,

and almsgiving endures forever.

Charitable giving goes hand in hand with prayer and fasting during Lent, but it’s never out of season. Neither is kindness.

But if we still need a nudge to make more of an effort to give more and be kinder, I recently read in livehappy magazine that March 20th is the International Day of Happiness, first declared by the United Nations in 2012. We could make a point that day of offering a kind word or a small gesture to brighten someone else’s day.

While we may never know the difference that word or gesture makes in that person’s day or life, we do know that God wants us to show his love to our neighbours and that our acts of giving to others also bless us.

And so I pray that we would consider the ways we can extend kindness and give to others—not only on the International Day of Happiness, and not only during Lent, but also going forward.

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

As a child, I used to look forward to Shrove Tuesday, although many people called it “Pancake Tuesday.” Sometimes my father would make the thin Danish pancakes we could spread jam on and roll up with a fork (sorry if I’m making anyone hungry).

I’m sure I wasn’t thinking about the start of Lent. I didn’t really do much to observe Lent before coming to the Catholic Church. Sure, I gave something up for the season, and I knew Lent was a time to prepare for Easter, but I didn’t give much thought to fasting, prayer and charitable giving.

But as author Mary Kathleen Glavich, SND, tells us in The Confirmed Catholic’s Companion: A Guide to Abundant Living, “Lent is a time of sanctifying our lives in preparation for celebrating Jesus’ glorious resurrection.”

With Ash Wednesday just two days away, we need to think about planning for a good Lent. How will we spend this season? Here are a few  ideas:

Fasting. We could give up late-night snacking or chocolate. Or we could give up something like nagging, swearing, or something that’s a bad habit in my house—yelling to another person instead of walking to the room that person is in to ask a question.

Prayer. We could try some new mealtime graces, use an app such as Laudate to pray a virtual rosary or other prayers, or make time first thing in the morning to talk with God. We could also attend a Eucharistic adoration service (I had the joy of attending one during our Confirmation retreat), a Stations of the Cross service, and/or early morning Mass during Lent. Or participate in a perpetual rosary—many members in my parish’s CWL group have committed to praying one mystery every day in Lent.

Charitable giving. If we’re giving up something we normally spend money on, we could put that amount into a jar regularly during Lent and donate the sum to a charity we have a connection to or one that our parish supports. Or donate items to the food bank. Or buy a cup of coffee or some food for someone living on the street.

For those in search of some ideas for Lent, visit BustedHalo.com to read Renée LaReau’s archived article “25 Great Things You Can Do For Lent…besides giving up chocolate” and check out the site’s “Fast Pray Give” calendar.

I pray that we would use this season to prepare our hearts so that we may better appreciate the joy of Easter.

“Yet even now,” says the LORD,

“return to me with all your heart,

with fasting, with weeping and with mourning;

and tear your hearts and not your garments.”

Return to the LORD, your God,

for he is gracious and merciful,

slow to anger, and abounding in mercy,

and repents of evil.

~ Joel 2:12-13*

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

Three things in human life are important: The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.

Henry James, quoted in The Book of Positive Quotations, 2nd Edition

Canadians have a reputation for being polite, and we like to think that ours is a kind and gentle society. But is it really all that kind and gentle?

We don’t have to go back to the demolition of Africville to find examples of racism. I’ve personally heard people make snide comments about members of various ethnic groups, even if they don’t use the racial slurs once so common.

And over the past couple of years, teen suicides have been in the news. Some of these kids—including a friend of my son—were victims of bullying.

These types of intolerant behaviour don’t fit our image of Canadian society. So what can we do to help bring our reality and the ideal closer together?

Here in Ottawa, we’re nearing the end of Kindness Week, which was created by Rabbi Reuven Bulka and is now in its sixth year. As the Kindness Week website points out, by being kind—giving, volunteering, saying thanks, celebrating kindness, and paying it forward—you can make a difference in someone else’s life and be happier yourself.

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The goal: for people to make kindness an everyday habit. So it becomes natural to hold the store door open for a parent with a stroller or to help someone reach an item on a high shelf at the grocery store. Simple actions such as these tell the person, “I notice you.” And when much of our human contact comes through text messages, e-mail and voice mail, isn’t that what we all need sometimes—to be noticed? Read the rest of this entry »

Last year, Ash Wednesday fell shortly before the Rite of Election, where my husband and I were to be received as candidates. Our parish priest asked us to help with the imposition of the ashes. We had to mark people’s foreheads with the sign of the cross and say, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

And so began my first full Lent in the Church.

Before that, the closest I’d come to observing Lent was giving up coffee for those forty days—and although I don’t drink a lot of coffee, it wasn’t pretty. (Just ask my family.)

I wasn’t used to fasting…or abstaining from meat on Fridays…or adding spiritual disciplines to my life during Lent. But I took on these challenges and participated in a Lenten Bible study in our parish. By the Easter Vigil, I felt more prepared to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

And isn’t that what Lent is all about—preparing our hearts by sweeping out the cobwebs through fasting, doing penance, and giving to charity?

How are you preparing for Easter? Read the rest of this entry »


Food for Thought

(Y)ou do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” ~ James 4:14-15

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