Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Lenten Practice: Fasting

What sacrifices we make, let them be sacrifices that transform us. They are not ends in themselves. They are tools by which we can become a little closer to God’s image, a little closer to Christ’s life.
+ Saint John Chrysostom

Fasting is a traditional Lenten sacrifice. It has to do with the quantity of food eaten on particular days---little or none. It differs significantly from abstinence, which refers to the kind of food a person denies himself or herself, for example, meat. Fasting has always been a popular religious practice. St. Thomas Aquinas, theologian and Doctor of the Church, mentions three reasons for fasting, all of which are rooted in the Bible: it safeguards chastity; it promotes prayer, especially contemplation; and it is a penitential practice that makes satisfaction for sin. At one time fasting was a voluntary practice. Later, church law very strictly regulated fasting until 1966.

Many of us remember when our parents did an extended partial fast by eating only one main meal on all days of Lent except Sundays, and two much smaller meals. I looked forward to being old enough to join in on that sacrifice as a rite of passage in my faith, but the regulations changed before I turned 21. Although I was willing to fast voluntarily, my elders in the faith discouraged me from doing so.

Eastern Rite Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians observe a much more extensive Lenten fast than we Latin Rite Catholics do. Our current church regulations confine obligatory partial fasting to two days, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. By the way we also fast totally for one hour from all food and drink, except water, before receiving Holy Eucharist. But choosing to fast more often is acceptable if it springs from good motives and is supported by prayer and almsgiving.

The prophet Isaiah spoke on God’s behalf in response to the hypocritical and formalistic fasting of some people.

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed.

May God be praised!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Self-knowledge and Penitience

Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
From Psalm 51

During our forty-day liturgical season of penitence we acknowledge the presence of sin in our lives. Scripture helps us to avoid denial.

“Who can say: My heart is pure; I am not a sinner?” Proverbs 20:9

“If we claim to be sinless, we deceive ourselves; but if we acknowledge our sins, the God who is faithful and just will forgive us.” 1 John 1:8,9

     Our merciful God will forgive repentant sinners. We begin by seeking self-knowledge.

Repentance requires honesty:
Honesty with oneself to acknowledge one’s sins.
Honesty with God to confess one’s sins.

Yet the commonest sin is lying:
Lying to oneself, ignoring one’s sins,
Lying to others, for selfish ends.

If I am lying to myself
May God open my inward eyes to see,

And may I repent of every sin.
Source: "Self-Knowledge in Celtic Prayers by Robert Van De Weyer

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Confession Is Good for the Soul

Sermon on the Mount
Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness….
Matthew 6:33

In today’s Sunday gospel Jesus makes it clear that God wants our complete allegiance. Is God first in our life or not? If yes, praise God for His goodness and mercy! If no, then it’s time to get our priorities straight.

Lent begins on Wednesday. As ashes are applied to our foreheads, we will hear “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” To repent means to turn away from sin and to seek forgiveness.

In a recent catechetical talk in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis spoke about the Sacrament of Penance. Here is some of what he taught:

We cannot forgive ourselves. We go to confession to be healed in heart and soul because of something we did that is not good.

In addition, he said that the penitent feels shame.

But shame is good, because it makes us humble, and the priest receives this confession with tenderness and pardons in the name of God. When we emerge from confession we emerge free, forgiven, great, beautiful, clean and happy. And that's the beauty of confession.

Have you ever before thought of shame as good or confession as beautiful?

Pope Francis also asked his listeners how long it had been since their last confession.

…two days ago? Two weeks ago? A couple of years ago? 20 years? 40 years? We should all take count, and say to ourselves: ‘When was the last time I went to confession?’ And if it's been a long time, do not waste one more day. Go. The priest will be good to you. Jesus is there, and Jesus is better than any priest. Jesus will welcome you. He will welcome you with so much love. Be brave and go to confession. I tell you, every time we confess, God celebrates. He embraces us.

Let’s pray for one another as we try to put God first in our lives.

Create a clean heart in me, O God!

Friday, February 28, 2014

"Isn’t it Morbid to Think About Jesus’ Sufferings?" Update

The Passionist Nuns who blog at In the Shadow of His Wings wrote about meditating on Jesus' sufferings. How appropriate! The penitential season of Lent will be here soon. A traditional devotion in most parishes is Stations of the Cross on the Fridays of Lent.  Here is a quotation from the Sisters' post that explains that meditating on the Lord's passion generates love for Christ in the heart of the believer.
To meditate on his passion is to begin to be illumined by the fire of divine love that radiates from the heart of Jesus through every moment of his sufferings, to begin to experience that in his passion he love me and gave himself for me (See Galatians 2:20).
In addition to the post the Sisters have a poetry page. Two poems are about the Lord's passion.  I found one by my favorite poet, Jessica Powers, who was a Carmelite Nun. I don't recall having read it before. "With a Flame Inside," is about the burning love for us that Jesus carried within himself.

Read the entire article here:  Isn’t it Morbid to Think About Jesus’ Sufferings?
The poem is here. Scroll down to find it.


I just found out that the Passionists celebrate the titular feast day of their religious congregation today, the Friday preceding Ash Wednesday. Part of their celebration is to commemorate Christ's Passion "as the most overwhelming sign of God's love." You might like to read the Sister's post about it here. They also have a link to a related homily from 2009, which you can read here. I'd say it's proof positive that thinking about Jesus' sufferings is not morbid.

May God be praised!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Loving Memories: Uncle Matt

My Uncle Matt and me, sitting on the stoop of my childhood home.

I treasure this photo, taken circa 1948. Uncle Matt has reached over to grasp my left arm. Perhaps to hold me still while the photo was being taken. I like the gentle smile on his face. 

Uncle Matt lived upstairs with my maternal grandmother, Grandma Lucas. He had come to live with my Grandma when he was very old. Matt was one of Grandma's older siblings, and his face resembles hers somewhat.

Uncle Matt slurped. In particular, he slurped soup and grandma's chocolate pudding. I laughed when he did that, because I thought it was funny. I'm not sure how the grownups felt about it.

I don't know a lot about Uncle Matt. But I found a source of information about him, the "Book of Memories" from his funeral at Tohle Funeral Home in December of 1949. The Preface of the book says:
We have compiled the data in this book of "Memories" so that the individuals of the coming generation will know their family. They are not dead until they are forgotten. May this book help to keep them always with us.
I love the sentiments expressed, and I would qualify as an individual of the coming generation, at least at the time it was written.  Those who compiled the data left many blanks in the book. So here are some scant facts about Uncle Matt.

  • His full name is Matthew L. Lawler.
  • He was born in Chicago on March 10th of 1873.
  • He entered into eternal rest at 1 PM on December 9th of 1949
  • At the time of his death he was 76 years, 8 months, and 29 day of age.
  • His Requiem Mass was on December 12th at 10 AM in St. Edward Church, Chicago, Illinois.
  • The celebrants of the Mass were Rev. Edward Kelly, Rev. John M. Kyle, and Rev. Charles McLaughlin. (I remember Fr. Kelly and Fr. Kyle very well.)
  • A trio sang hymns at his funeral Mass, but I couldn't make out their name.
  • Uncle Matt was laid to rest in Calvary Cemetery, section U, South half of lot 6, block 28, in Evanston, Illinois.
Those who attended Uncle Matt's funeral signed the book. There are five pages of names written in fountain pen. There were probably no ball point pens then. I recognize names of family from both sides of my family. I also found names of neighbors who lived on our block and other family friends. I also noted the name of our family doctor, Dr. Lynn, and his wife. I remember him because he made house calls. I also saw the name of my paternal great grandmother, Maria Brauer.

I don't know what Uncle Matt did for a living, but the first four names in the register indicate they were from the Bureau of Parks, so maybe Uncle Matt worked for that bureau in some capacity. Many of my mother's relatives were city workers.

It would be nice to know more about Uncle Matt.

Childhood Memories: Lenten Practices 3

Tiny Roman coins of little value
Every Ash Wednesday I was given a mite box. A mite box was not full of tiny arachnids. A mite, we were told, was an ancient Roman coin of little worth, like a penny. Throughout the 40 days of Lent we children filled our mite boxes with coins earned by doing extra chores or by saving part of our allowance. During Holy Week we returned the filled boxes to school, and all the proceeds were given to help the poor. 

One year my younger brother, inspired by the Bible story of the Widow’s mite, emptied his piggy bank and gave all the money it contained, about 20 dollars---175 dollars today, adjusting for inflation. When our mother found out, she wasn’t pleased. I, however, was immensely impressed with Johnny’s generosity!