Tuesday, April 22, 2014
During Easter Mass on Sunday, did you notice the 2,000-year-old bragging rights surreptitiously preserved by St. John in his gospel?
"So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first..." (Jn 20:3-4)
John himself was "the other disciple" mentioned in this passage. The fact that he felt it pertinent to include this small detail in his account of that first Easter morning might make us smile, but it should also make young adult believers think.
What might, at first glance, seem like an interesting but meaningless detail actually has a lot to teach college-aged Catholics. You see, John was the youngest of Jesus’ disciples – probably in his early 20s at the time of the Resurrection.
He was also known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” He had a special bond with our Lord and Christ recognized in John a close friend and loyal disciple.
When the other disciples were hiding in fear during Jesus’ passion and crucifixion, it was John who bravely followed Christ along the way of the cross. It was John who stood strong at the foot of the cross. And it was John whom Jesus trusted to love and take care of his mother, Mary.
Young adult Catholics, then, can find an inspiring example in John. The youngest disciple of Christ was, after all, the most faithful when it mattered most.
And time and time again, those of us who are blessed to work with college students are reminded that our Lord was really on to something.
The world may idolize youthfulness, but it also very often infantilizes young adults. It’s too often assumed that young adults are “slackers,” more concerned with social media, pop culture and socializing than with the things in life that really matter.
Young adults today are often discouraged from rushing into “adult” responsibilities like marriage, having a family or social responsibility.
But against this current, Christ and his Church have always looked to young adults as beacons of hope in the world and as stalwart examples of faithfulness. Christ and his Church have always entrusted the young and energetic with being on the forefront of spreading the Gospel message.
And, thanks be to God, our young adults respond.
They respond in faith. Without anyone to prod them into attending Mass, they still go. Faithfully… in droves.
They respond in hope. Without anyone forcing them to, they eschew labels, they welcome strangers as friends, and they lend a helping hand whenever and wherever needed, in the model of Christ.
The respond in love. Without anyone forcing them to care for the concerns of the poor and disenfranchised, they still care. They volunteer, they organize, and they set in motion good and selfless service in the world.
Like St. John, our college-aged Catholics are often the best examples of Christian discipleship to all of us who have long left youth (and optimism… and innocence…) behind. They are not embittered and they are not weighed down by “life.” They are truly and wonderfully “salt and light” for the world.
A wonderfully happy Easter to each and every college student at Ole Miss. Thank you for being an inspiration for me and so many others. Thank you for being an example for my children. And thank you invigorating the Church and inspiring all Christians to “run faster.”
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
|Most Rev. James Johnson, Bishop of Cape Girardeau (Missouri), baptizes a catechumen during|
the Easter Vigil Mass at the Cathedral of St. Mary in Cape Girardeau last year.
Most of us are familiar with the fact that one of the most important aspects of the Easter Vigil Mass is the reception of men and women who are coming into full communion with the Catholic Church.
Last year, during the Easter Vigil at Catholic parishes throughout the U.S., over 111,000 men and women entered into the Catholic faith. 41,918 adults were baptized and another 71,582 were received into full communion with the Church upon their public profession of faith:
"I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God."
One important catalyst for conversions to and reversions back to the Catholic faith has been a lay-led media campaign called "Catholics Come Home." You might be familiar with their commercials like the one here:
Here's a hopeful story from National Catholic Register contributor Charlotte Hays about the measurable impact that the evangelization efforts of Catholics Come Home is having in the Catholic Church here in the U.S.:
Coming Home for Easter - Its Not Just for Catholics
Indeed, although the name Catholics Come Home might sound as if the organization focuses solely on former Catholics, that — as Clark’s story indicates — is not the case.
“The Holy Spirit is using Catholics Come Home to lead home converts, atheists and agnostics, as well as reverts,” said Tom Peterson, a former ad executive, who founded the organization after an intense spiritual experience on a men’s retreat in 1997.
It is not surprising that an organization founded by an ad man has become known nationally for its high-quality “evangomerials,” including the dazzlingly filmed “Epic” that highlights the Catholic Church’s contributions to civilization. “Our bailiwick is TV, radio and the Internet,” Peterson said. “We go out with TV and reach people where they are.”
Peterson estimates that Catholics Come Home evangelization campaigns, which are usually conducted at the invitation of a diocese, have reached 250 million viewers during four national and 37 regional media campaigns since 2008.
Based on the findings of more than a dozen dioceses that have done statistical research on the effects of Catholics Come Home, Peterson said, the estimate is that half a million people have come into the Church through the encouragement of its evangelization.
Sometimes, the connection is startlingly clear. Daniel Bui, 27, who teaches history at a charter school in Houston, grew up as an evangelical Christian, but he became disillusioned by the disunity in his parents’ church. Still, he attended a Baptist church in Austin as a University of Texas student. But when he came to Washington to intern at the Family Research Council, he was grappling with what to believe. Catholic interns showed him “Epic,” and the impact on him was deep.
“The Catholics Come Home ad awakened in me an emotional and spiritual connection with the Catholic Church,” he said, “so I came to understand the Church in personal terms, instead of just as a historical artifact.” He came into the Church in 2009.
Another person reached by Catholics Come Home was Harrison Garlick, 28, a law student at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma. “I was raised Methodist and charismatic. My first experience of the Catholic Church was when I was at Oral Roberts University,” Garlick recalled.
He was studying theology and history when he ran into the “Epic” ad, which made a deep impression.
“My studies on the early Church Fathers revealed to me an ancient Church that was faithful to the apostles and philosophically consistent, and it was the CCH ‘Epic’ commercial that first revealed to me the vitality of that ancient Church in the modern world,” he said.
Still not Catholic, Harrison went to Ave Maria University in Florida after Oral Roberts for a master’s degree in theology. His girlfriend, who is now his wife, read up on the ethical teachings of the Church while he immersed himself in theology. About halfway through his studies at Ave Maria, they began RCIA together. They have since been received into the Church.
Like Garlick, Lydia Clark came upon Catholics Come Home during a period of intense thought about religious issues. The minister’s daughter was a student at Gordon College, a liberal arts college in Massachusetts rooted in evangelical Christianity. She was taking a course that touched on St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas but did not go into depth on much between the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. (which mainline Protestant churches accept) and the time of the Reformation more than 1,000 years later. “Okay, I’m wondering what happened in all these other years,” she recalled.
Clark began exploring online and found Catholics Come Home.
She found the CCH material “welcoming and friendly, and that made me feel better.”
Clark’s boyfriend, whom she plans to marry this summer, was baptized a Catholic but had become a Protestant. Nevertheless, they began to go to Mass.
“I had never been to Mass before, and that was really scary for me,” she recalled. “When I read that the Eucharist is the summit of the Mass, it made me realize how Christ-centric the Mass is. While we were still on the fence, we went to talk to Father [Edward] Wilson, the pastor of Sts. Rose and Clement [in Warwick, R.I.], and he was so nice and welcoming and answered all our questions.”
“When we started RCIA, we were really nervous and didn’t know anybody. But we realized that they really cared about us. Our journey was mostly doctrinal, but the welcoming ads and welcoming people made us really want to come into the Church.”
She did not tell her father she was attending Mass, but he guessed and volunteered that he would not be upset if she became a Catholic. “I was like, ‘Okay, you just saved me a very awkward conversation,’” she said. He was present when she was confirmed at the Easter vigil last year.
The Ripple Effect
There is also a coming-home ripple effect.
Mary Bane had “spent 15 years visiting other churches,” but when she heard the Catholics Come Home ad that features famed football coach Lou Holtz, she knew it was time. “When he said, ‘We’re saving a seat for you,’ I knew I could go back to the Church,” she said. She was excited for her three teenage sons’ confirmation at this year’s Easter vigil at St. Agnes Catholic Church in Atlantic Highlands, N.J. “My husband and I are just so happy to be back,” she said.
Shirley Hill, who had also left the Catholic Church, decided to take the step after seeing material from Catholics Come Home. “It opened my eyes,” she said. “Before seeing it, I maybe thought I needed to go back to Church, but I’ll tell you the truth: I was afraid. But Catholics Come Home helped me get past my fears and guilt and do it,” she said. Her husband, Tom, who was brought up a Protestant, held back, but he eventually signed up for RCIA and became Catholic last Easter.
Tom Hill, 66, liked his RCIA classes at St. Joseph’s Church in Farmington, Mo., so much that he hammered out a deal with the pastor: He offered to help with meals for the class if he could sit in on RCIA a second year. He did — and became the sponsor of a young man who was riding his motorcycle past the church one day and saw a sign urging people to consider Catholicism.
Madge Winch, who also attends St. Joseph in Farmington, was like Shirley Hill, a fallen-away Catholic wishing to return. “When I kept hearing the Catholics Come Home ads, I realized that I could get squared away and come back,” she said. She attended Mass on Saturday evenings, but quit asking her husband, a Baptist, to go.
“One afternoon, he said, ‘Are you going to church?’ I said I was, and he said, ‘Well, I’m coming with you.’ I stopped in my tracks,” she recalled. Gene Winch came into the Catholic Church last Easter.
“It’s a miracle, really and truly, for Gene Winch, who was a hard-shelled Baptist, to go to the Catholic Church and be so proud to be Catholic,” she said.
‘A Providential Invitation’
All of this is gratifying for Peterson, but he counsels that the numbers are not the whole story: “The Good Shepherd says for us to do this even if we are doing it for one person. It is the work of the Holy Spirit, and we do it because it is the right thing to do.”
One strong supporter of Catholics Come Home is Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Spring, Colo., who recently said that “it seems clear to me that the Catholics Come Home campaign has played a significant part in what is proving to be a record number of people preparing to enter the Catholic Church at Easter.”
Said Bishop Sheridan, “The beautifully done Catholics Come Home ads have been a providential invitation to the discipleship that Pope Francis has been so forcefully calling the world to embrace.”
Monday, April 14, 2014
Welcome to Holy Week! This week is the high point of our sacred calendar as Catholics, culminating in the Passion of our Lord (commemorated on Good Friday) and reaching its pinnacle with the celebration of Christ's defeat of death on Easter.
In the lines below, we join Msgr. Charles Pope (from the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.), in his very well-written chronological outline of Holy Week. Before delving into Msgr. Pope's meditation, however, check out these two pdf documents that you can print out and reflect on in the coming days:
Journeying from Passiontide to Easter (including the Holy Week schedule at St. John's)
Walking with Jesus in Holy Week (a condensed version of Msgr. Pope's reflections below)
At the heart of our faith is the Paschal Mystery: the Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus Christ. All of salvation history leads up to and goes forth from these saving events. The purpose of this post is to describe Jesus’ Final week. We call this “Holy Week” for Jesus’ public ministry culminates with his suffering, death and resurrection.
What follows is a brief description of each day of Holy Week. It is hoped that you might print out the pdf flyer (Walking-with-Jesus-In-Holy-Week) and read it each day of this week. Prayerfully walk with Jesus in his most difficult and yet glorious week.
I realize that some scripture scholars scoff at the idea that we can construct a day-by-day journal of Jesus’ last week. There ARE historical gaps and things in the accounts that don’t add up perfectly. Further, St. John, posits a whole different scenario (perhaps as a theological interpretation) of the Last Supper and how it relates to Passover. The following sequence follows primarily the synoptic (Matt, Mark and Luke) accounts, in terms of timing. Despite certain scholarly doubts, the account really do add up pretty well if we use a little imagination and see the differences not as differences in fact, but only in the level detail.
PALM SUNDAY Our celebration of Holy Week begins this Sunday as we remember and make present the triumphal entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem to begin his final week and initiate his Passion. All four Gospels recount this triumphant entry that Sunday Morning so long ago, but made present to us today. As you receive your palms, consider that you are part of that vast crowd. How will you journey with Jesus this week? Let the palm remind you to praise him with your prayerful presence during the sacred Triduum. According to Mark 11:11 Jesus returned that evening to Bethany, a suburb of Jerusalem. Perhaps he stayed with his friends Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Pray with Jesus this evening as he considers the difficult days ahead of him.
Monday of Holy Week According to Matthew 21, Mark 11 and Luke 19, Jesus returns to Jerusalem today and, seeing shameful practices in the Temple area, he cleanses the Temple. John’s Gospel also records that he rebuked the unbelief of the crowds. Mark 11:19 records that he returned to Bethany that night. Pray with Jesus as he is zealous to purify us.
Tuesday of Holy Week According to Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus again returns to Jerusalem where he is confronted by the Temple leadership for what he did yesterday. They question his authority. He also teaches extensively using parables and other forms. There is the parable of the vineyard (cf Mt 21:33-46), the parable of the wedding banquet, (cf Mt. 22:1). There is also the teaching on paying taxes (cf Mt 22:15) and the rebuke of the Sadducees who deny the resurrection (cf Mt. 22:23). There is also the fearful prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem if the inhabitants do not come to faith in him. He warns that not one stone will be left on another (cf Mt 24). Continue to pray with Jesus and listen carefully to his final teachings just before his passion.
Wednesday of Holy Week Traditionally this day was called “Spy Wednesday” for it was on this Wednesday before the crucifixion that Judas conspired to hand Jesus over. For this he was paid thirty pieces of silver (cf Mt. 26:14). Jesus likely spent the day In Bethany. In the evening Mary of Bethany anoints Jesus with costly perfumed oil. Judas objects but Jesus rebukes him and says Mary has anointed him for his burial! (cf Mt 26:6). The wicked are besetting Jesus and plotting against him. Are you praying?
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Morning, noon and night: Three times a day, every day!
V. The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
R. And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
Hail Mary, full of grace,
The Lord is with Thee;
Blessed art thou among women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen
V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
R. Be it done to me according to your word.
Hail Mary. . .
V. And the Word was made flesh.
R. And dwelt among us.
Hail Mary. . .
V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let us pray: Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we to whom the Incarnation of Christ Thy Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection. Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Happy St. Joseph's Day!
For Good Cheer tonight we will join the parish for a special St. Joseph's Day Mass at 5:30pm at St. John's followed by a St. Joseph's Day Dinner in the parish hall downstairs.
Free will donations will be collected for the Clayton Stevens Fund, which goes directly to help the poor in Oxford and Lafayette County. All are welcome to attend and take part in this wonderful tradition!
Who Was St. Joseph?
He is the patron of fathers, workers, the universal Church and of a happy death; he was Mary's husband and Jesus' foster father, the protector of the Holy Family. From sacred Scripture, we also know that he was "a righteous man" (Matthew 1:18). Suffice to say, St. Joseph's a pretty big deal.
What can we learn from St. Joseph's example? Well, he teaches us a few important things as Christians.
1) St. Joseph teaches us to be good and hard workers. He was was a carpenter by trade, a hard-working man who was not wealthy. When he took the infant Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to be circumcised and for Mary to be purified, Joseph offered two turtledoves for sacrifice - the sacrifice of a family who could not afford a lamb (Luke 2:24).
2) St. Joseph teaches us to be humble. He was of royal lineage (a descendant of the great King David according to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke), but Joseph never shied away from doing menial labor to provide for his family.
3) St. Joseph teaches us to be caring and compassionate. When Joseph discovered that his fiancee Mary was pregnant, he knew that he was not the father but, at that time, did not know that she was carrying the Son of God. But instead of publicly accusing her of adultery and risking that she be stoned to death, he decided to divorce her quietly according to the law to protect Mary (Matthew 1:19-25).
4) St. Joseph teaches us to be faithful and obedient to God. When an angel sent by God revealed to Joseph that Mary was carrying the Son of God, Joseph unhesitatingly took her into his home, despite the risk of scandal and reproach from others. After Jesus' birth, Joseph again followed God's warnings that the Infant was in danger and led his family away from their home into Egypt until the danger passed (Matthew 2:13-23). He also made sure that Jesus was raised in the fullness of their Jewish faith, making sure the family was present at the Temple in Jerusalem each year to celebrate Passover - a feat that could not have been easy for a working man.
5) St. Joseph teaches us to love Jesus and Mary. Over and over again, Joseph showed his love for Jesus and for Mary. He did whatever was needed to protect them from danger and, upon returning from Egypt, moved the family to a small, obscure village (Nazareth) to raise Jesus in safety. Joseph accepted and raised Jesus as his own son and made sure that he and his mother were provided for. When Jesus stayed behind in the Temple on one of the family's trips to Jerusalem, Joseph joined Mary in her genuine distress as they searched diligently for the child for three days (Luke 2:48).
St. Joseph is a role model to all of us, but especially to Catholic men. Many saints throughout the centuries have had a strong devotion to him. He has been honored by the Church with two feast days on the Church calendar: today (March 19th) as "Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary" and May 1st as "St. Joseph the Worker." Pope Bl. John XXIII (d. 1963) added St. Joseph's name to the Roman Canon (the first Eucharistic prayer) and Pope Francis added his name to all the other Eucharistic prayers just last year.
It should also be noted that we here at St. John's in Oxford have two good reasons to pray for our Church leaders on this day: St. Joseph is the name saint for our pastor (Joseph Tonos) and our bishop (Joseph Kopacz).
Monday, March 17, 2014
Happy St. Patrick's Day! Here in the U.S., this is the day when everyone wears green, goes to a parade (or went to one this past weekend) and suddenly becomes Irish. And all because its the feast day of a Catholic saint!
So our society likes to celebrate St. Patrick (or - let's be honest - we just like any excuse to celebrate). But how much do you really know about the patron saint of Ireland? Did he really drive all of the snakes out of Ireland? Did he like green and shamrocks? Did he speak with a thick Irish brogue?
Some of these questions will never get answered, but we do know some facts about good St. Patrick. For starters, we know that he was ordained as a Catholic bishop to evangelize the people of Ireland and that he died on this day (the year is not certain, but most likely, it was c. 493). What we know for sure about him comes from two of his own writings which have been preserved to this very day. And, of course, there are also many pious legends which have grown up around the person of St. Patrick over the centuries.
Truth is, Patrick had an amazing life and we are fortunate that he recorded some of the details in his own biographical writings. While it's a bit of a stretch to imagine that Patrick is single-handedly responsible for
the conversion of the entire island of Ireland to Christianity, his contribution to the building-up and the spread of Christianity among the competing Celtic tribes of Ireland during the fifth century certainly merits our honor and remembrance on this day.
And now, prepare to amaze your friends today with the top five myths about St. Patrick's Day:
Myth #1: St. Patrick was Irish.
St. Patrick (or, Patricius), was born around 387 in Roman Britain. He was born into a Christian family: his father, Calpornius, was a deacon and his grandfather, Potitus, was a priest (this was in an era before the discipline of clerical celibacy was widespread). Patrick's own writings record that at the age of 16 he was captured by a group of marauders and taken to Ireland where he was sold as a slave. In Ireland he was forced to be a shepherd and he spent most of his time outdoors and alone. During this time he turned to prayer and his Christian faith for strength. After six years in servitude, Patrick believed God spoke to him and told him it was time to return home. He escaped from his owner and returned to his family in Britain.
A few years after returning home, Patrick experienced another calling, urging him to return to Ireland - this time as a missionary. Patrick began religious training - a process toward eventual ordination that lasted around 15 years. After his ordination as a priest, Patrick was then consecrated a bishop and sent back to Ireland.
Myth #2: St. Patrick was the first Christian missionary to Ireland.
Ireland had already been visited by Catholic missionaries prior to St. Patrick and there were already well-established pockets of Christianity on the island by the time that Patrick himself arrived. There is some evidence of Christian missionary activity in Ireland as early as the fourth century and those unnamed missionaries had some success. In 431, Pope Celestine sent a missionary bishop named Palladius to Ireland. Palladius (not Patrick) was the first bishop sent to Ireland. Palladius died around 457 and, along with St. Patrick, is honored as a saint and as an apostle to the Irish people. Patrick did not arrive back in Ireland as a missionary bishop until at least two years later in 433.
Myth #3: St. Patrick used the three-leafed shamrock to teach the doctrine of the Trinity.
Fact: Unprovable. Not necessarily false, just impossible to prove.
As I mentioned earlier, we actually have writings by Patrick himself and in them he does not mention the shamrock. The tradition of its use by St. Patrick to teach the pagan Celts about the Triune God can be dated no earlier than the 18th century. The truth is, we just don't know whether St. Patrick used the shamrock or not. It's certainly possible that he could have. What we do know is that it is a pretty cool idea and that the shamrock has now come to be a beloved symbol of St. Patrick.
Myth #4: St. Patrick drove all of the snakes out of Ireland.
While it's true that there are no native snakes in Ireland (while neighboring England is full of them), we probably can't give St. Patrick the credit (despite the fact that this feat has been the subject of some really cool depictions of St. Patrick over the centuries). According to geologists, the island of Ireland's geographic history has kept it snake-free. Snakes aren't exactly keen on cold climates and Ireland was covered with glaciers for ages. By the time the island warmed up again (about 15,000 years ago), there were no land bridges connecting Ireland to England, so Ireland has remained snake-free.
Myth #5: You should pinch people who don't wear green on St. Patrick's Day.
It's called assault, so I wouldn't recommend it.
Seriously, though: have a wonderfully happy St. Patrick's Day. Remember that there was a real man beyond the myths and legends, and that - through the grace of God - he lived such a virtuous life that he attracted many to faith in Christ Jesus. In fact, within a generation of his death, Patrick was already being venerated by the faithful of Ireland as a saint.
So have fun today! Be joyous and maybe even drink something green. But above all this, take a moment or two to thank the good Lord for the example of Patrick.
St. Patrick, pray for us!
Sunday, March 16, 2014
The CCM event calendar looks a little bit different (and fuller) this week, so take a moment to see what's going on:
SUNDAY (3/16): Spaghetti Supper after the 5:00pm Mass. Downstairs in the Parish Hall.
MONDAY (3/17): Lenten Penance/Confession 5:00pm - 7:00pm in the church. Four priests will be available to hear confessions during this time (i.e. there's not a "service" - just an awesome availability of priests to hear your good confession). So, as Father Joe says, "show up, 'fess up and be done!"
TUESDAY (3/18): Eucharistic Adoration 7:00pm - 8:00pm in the church. Afterwards, all lady Rebels are invited to join the Ladies Book Club (8:15pm - 9:15pm in the St. John's Community Room).
WEDNESDAY (3/19): St. Joseph's Day Mass at 5:30pm in the church; St. Joseph's Day Dinner at 6:00pm. The St. Joseph's day Mass and dinner will take the place of GOOD CHEER this week!
THURSDAY (3/20): Thursday Afternoon Book Study, 1:00pm in the Baxter Room (next to Starbucks in the J.D. Williams Library). Later, at 6:00pm, join us to pray the Rosary in the St. John's Community Room.
FRIDAY (3/21): Stations of the Cross 5:00pm in the church (and each Friday during Lent!). Afterwards, the Community of Sant'Egidio hosts Evening Prayer in the church after Stations of the Cross. Also, come out and enjoy the "second best catfish in Oxford" at the Knights of Columbus Lenten Fish Fry, from 5:30pm - 7:00pm in the Parish Hall.
Friday, March 7, 2014
The daily cross. 'Nulla dies sine cruce!' No day without its cross; not a single day in which we are not to shoulder the Cross of the Lord, no day during which we are not to accept his yoke...
The way to our personal sanctification should daily lead us to the cross. This way is not a sorrowful one, because Christ himself comes to our aid, and in his company there is no room for sadness ... There is not a single day without a cross - 'the' Cross. -St. José Maria Escrivá
+ + +
The Way of the Cross. Here indeed you have a sturdy and fruitful devotion. Spend a few moments each Friday going over those fourteen points of Our Lord's Passion and Death. I assure you that you will gain strength for your the whole of the week. -St. José Maria Escrivá
Stations of the Cross are prayed at St. John's in Oxford each Friday of Lent at 5:00pm, in the church. Join us.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
If you've been walking around with ashes on your forehead most of the day, the secret's out: you're probably a Catholic.
Which means that you've probably gotten a few stares, a couple of bemused looks and at least one of the following questions.
Here are some answers if you've been stumped:
What is Lent?
Lent is a time when all throughout the Church prepare to celebrate Easter through penance, prayer, fasting and alms-giving. Traditionally, the season of Lent lasts forty days (not counting the Sundays of Lent), from Ash Wednesday until the Easter Vigil (the night before Easter Sunday). The word Lent is from an Anglo-Saxon word lencten, which means "spring." Observance of Lent can be traced to the earliest days of the Church, when Christians willingly joined catechumens (those seeking baptism) in a period of intense preparatory prayer and fasting in the weeks before their baptisms, which were performed during the Easter Vigil, in the pre-dawn hours of Easter Sunday.
What is the point of Lent? Is it biblical?
The point of Lent is that it is a time of prayerful reflection and conversion (turning away from sin and back to God). In imitation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who spent forty days fasting and praying in the wilderness before beginning His public ministry (see the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke), we spend the forty days before our annual celebration of the Lord's Resurrection (i.e. Easter) in fasting, prayer and sacrifice. The number 40 is important in the Bible because it symbolizes preparation and renewal. For example, Noah spent forty days and forty nights in the ark (Genesis 7:4, 12, 17; 8:6) and Moses spent forty days and forty nights on Mount Sinai when receiving the Law from God (Exodus 24:18; Deuteronomy 10:10).
Do I have to "give something up" during Lent?
It seems that everybody - even those who know the least about Catholic Christianity - knows that Catholics traditionally give something up during Lent. In fact, it becomes a ridiculously common question for Catholics to ask one another "what did you give up?" during this season. Truth is, you are not required to give up something for Lent. What you are required to do, is to do penitential acts - making temporary sacrifices in an effort to draw closer to God. For many people, they may willingly give up something that they enjoy as a penance during Lent. This is certainly a good practice. For others, however, they may choose to do penance by setting their alarm extra early to get up and pray every morning, or by setting aside extra money each week for the poor or the Church. If you haven't decided what to do on this front, might I suggest that you pray and ask God what penance(s) He would have you do during Lent?
What about meatless Fridays?
You have a lot of leeway on your personal disciplines during Lent, but Fridays, however, are a different story. Whether you realize it or not, every Friday of the year is supposed to be a day of penance for Catholics, so Lent isn't all that different. Yep - that's not just a "pre-Vatican II" thing - current church discipline actually requires that on every Friday of the year, according to canon law and in recognition of Christ's sacrifice on the cross, you should either refrain from eating meat or do some other penance (such as praying the Stations of the Cross, saying extra prayers, or some other offering). On the Fridays of Lent, however, you don't have a choice: you are obliged to refrain from eating meat. The cool thing about this is that this is a communal discipline: in other words, while abstaining from meat on Fridays may or may not be difficult sacrifice for you, personally, the cool part is that we're joining the worldwide Church in a very ancient Catholic discipline.
Why do we eat fish on Fridays?
You certainly don't have to eat fish on Fridays. You could simply go vegetarian each Friday. But the point is refraining from eating meat. Eating fish is allowed on Fridays because, due to longstanding tradition, fish is not considered meat. The fish is an ancient Christian symbol and eating fish (and other seafood) on Fridays has long been allowed.
What are "days of fast and abstinence"?
During the Lenten season, we are encouraged to fast, pray and give alms (money to the poor), seeking to amend our Christian lives - the three traditional disciplines of Lent. But on two days in particular, the Church requires that we all fast and avoid meat. They are: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. On these days, Catholics should fast (eating only one small meal, if needed). If they do eat a small meal, it should be meatless.
Are the Sundays in Lent part of Lent?
Many people ask if they can "cheat" on the Sundays of Lent? In other words, they want to know if they have to practice penance on the Sundays of Lent. Well, technically, Sundays are always a celebration of Jesus' Resurrection - sort of "mini-Easters," if you will - so Sunday is never officially a day of penance. In fact, on the Church's calendar, the Sundays during Lent are called the Sundays in Lent instead of the Sundays of Lent. So, it is really up to you. Lent is a season geared towards doing penance and turning towards the Lord. If you feel that you are "cheating" on your penance, then you shouldn't do it. Follow your conscience.
Here are three key tips for a keeping a holy Lent:
1) Pray fervently for the Holy Spirit to show you the areas of your spiritual life that need to be amended and ask for God's help in establishing your spiritual practices for Lent.
2) Follow the Church's rules of fasting and abstinence, and your own Lenten practices, quietly, joyfully and without complaint. No one likes a complainer, and you may not realize it but you can bear important witness to your friends and family members by simply and humbly doing what is asked of us in ways of penance, fasting and abstinence.
3) Make a commitment to make a good Confession at least once during Lent.
And finally, below, some practical suggestions to make this the best Lent ever, based largely on the ideas of our friends over at the Aggie Catholic blog at Texas A&M.
- Wake up 20 minutes early and start the day in prayer.
- Daily Mass 1-2 times a week.
- Spend an hour in prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament each week.
- Go to Confession.
- Read Scripture daily.
- Start a Lenten Bible study group with your friends.
- Start to pray a daily Rosary.
- Pray the Liturgy of the Hours.
- Pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy each day.
- Pray the Stations of the Cross on Fridays.
- Pray for your enemies.
- Watch The Passion of the Christ and then meditate on Christ's sacrifice.
- Read about the life of a saint.
- Get involved with the parish if you haven't already.
- Memorize Scripture verses.
- Read a book on Catholic spirituality.
- When you fast from a meal, give the money you would have spent to the poor.
- Use a coin box during Lent to collect your loose change each day and give it to the poor.
- Volunteer with Interfaith Compassion Ministry, the Pantry, Save-a-Life, or More Than a Meal.
- Spend more time with your parents.
- Visit a nursing home.
- Start tithing each week.
- Make a pledge to a worthy, charitable cause.
- Forgive an old grudge.
- Invite someone to attend Mass with you.
- Share your faith with someone.
- Give someone a Catholic tract, CD or DVD.
- Exercise patience and love.
- Speak in a pleasant tone to everyone.
- Look for extra ways to help others.
- Go out of your way to talk to someone who is shy or difficult.
- Offer to watch a mother's child(ren).
- Drive with love and care.
- Write a letter to a relative you haven't seen in a while.
The following are good things we can fast from and have back at a later time.
- Try to eat only bread and water on Fridays.
- Fast from TV.
- Fast from snacking or candy.
- Fast from the radio and/or iPod in your car; make driving time prayer time.
- Fast from the Internet and/or Facebook.
- Fast from caffeine.
- Do not use seasoning on your food.
The following are things we can fast from and continue to give up:
- Fast from alcohol (especially if you drink too much or are under 21).
- Fast from speeding.
- Fast from sarcasm or gossip.
- Fast from pornography.
- Fast from being lazy or lying.
- Fast from not studying or working too hard.
- Fast from complaining.
- Fast from some other bad and/or unhealthy habit.
A special guest post for Ash Wednesday:
Random student in Biology: “You have dirt on your head.”
Me: “It’s not dirt, stop touching me.”
Random student in Biology: “No but really there is black dirt all over your forehead.”