Thursday, April 10, 2014

Holy Week on the Horizon--Are You Ready?

Wasn't Ash Wednesday just a few days ago? How can it be the Thursday before Palm Sunday? I am not ready for Easter!

I had big plans to read a deep spiritual book and to be more peaceful this Lent. I've read a little bit of the book, but it's weighty and I seem to be interrupted needed whenever I start to read. Or, maybe the problem is that my brain is too crowded right now to focus on the words. Obviously, the peaceful part hasn't been a big success either, except that one day in the garden

The past two days, I'd hoped to spend time in the garden, but it's been rather windy, and I have had a number of other excuses reasons for not working outside. April is always a busy month for my family. We have a couple birthdays, Easter, music competitions, and track practice. It seems every time I sit down to write or plan to cook or work in the garden, it's time to get back in the minivan for the next thing on the list.

Ten days remain until Easter Sunday. What can we do to get ready if this Lent wasn't the deep spiritual journey we'd hoped it would be? Here are some suggestions for the remaining days until Easter Sunday:

Thursday: Get to reconciliation.


Saturday: Attend a weekday Mass--perhaps try a Latin Mass if one is available in your area.

Sunday: Go to Palm Sunday Mass to begin your celebration of Holy Week. Maybe braid your palms.

Monday: Prepare lovingly for Easter--do laundry, iron, make sure everyone's dress shoes fit. Don't wait until Holy Saturday to prepare your clothing.

Tuesday: Grocery shopping and cookie/bread baking, especially if you're hosting the meal. Again, you don't want to be in the store on Friday or Saturday with everyone who is doing last minute preparations.

Wednesday: Attend a Tenebrae Service or pray an extra rosary.

Thursday: Chrism Mass at a Cathedral and Holy Thursday - Mass of the Lord's Supper.

Friday: Good Friday Service and color Easter eggs. Begin the Divine Mercy Novena.

Saturday: Holy Saturday morning, take Easter food to be blessed. Attend an Easter Vigil Mass where Catechumens are receiving the sacraments.

Sunday: Easter Sunday, Praise God and love the people He has given to you!

If you haven't had the best preparation for Easter during this Lent, it's not too late to give your attention and heart to Our Lord.

For the sake of His Sorrowful Passion, Have Mercy on Us and on the Whole World.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

In the Garden I Find Peace

A few weeks ago, I planted seeds for tomatoes, leeks, onions, basil, parsley, peppers, and eggplant. I'm expecting to buy plants for most of those veggies and herbs at local plant sales when I give up hope on my seedlings at the beginning of May.

I'm not being pessimistic here, but realistic.

Tiny tomatoes--I'll feel more confident about their viability once they have a set of "true leaves."

For the past decade, almost every year I have started seedlings indoors only to dump the leggy, dead plants into the compost heap. And yet, each spring I try again, modifying my approach just enough to be hopeful again.  I don't have grow lamps or a green house, so I move trays around the kitchen, trying to find enough light to keep things growing.
Leggy leeks and onions--I haven't given up on them yet!

The trays take up counter space, and probably drive my family a bit crazy. My husband and children are not interested in gardening, and my overzealous planting takes counter space that they would like to use for pouring cereal and making sandwiches.

In those trays, I see potential. I see blossoms in late June and red tomatoes by the end of July. I see onions and leeks next fall. I smell parsley and basil that I will pick just before I use it in a summer supper. I see...a garden!

The weather on this first day of April finally felt like spring here in New England. I went into the garden to empty some compost. We still have some snow and ice on the north-facing side of the fence and near the end of the driveway, but most of the snow has melted. As I walked around the yard, I discovered chives poking through the damp earth and cleaned the dead fronds from the asparagus row. I smiled to find a few spinach seedlings had sprouted in my (new this year) make-shift cold frame.

The sun, warm on my face, shone with the promise that spring indeed has sprung and the time for planting has come. I will be tidying, pruning, and planting for weeks to come, and with a little hope and a lot of prayer, some of my seedlings may actually make it to the garden this year.

Gardening is more than a hobby for me. Of course, I garden to grow healthy food for my family. More importantly, though, I garden because it gives me quiet time in creation with my Creator. In the garden, I find peace.

Heavenly Father, 

Thank you for the gift of creation. Thank you for the birds, bunnies, squirrels, and chipmunks that will disturb my plants and steal my produce. They help me to be humble--and pay my tithes of produce. Thank you for the butterflies and insects that pollinate our plants. Thank you for the rain and the sun that help our plants to grow. Thank you for strong arms and hands to tend the garden. Thank you for a bountiful harvest, if it be your will. Thank you for the opportunity to "work in the vineyard."

Amen.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

On Laetare (Joy) Sunday, Let Us Be Light

In today's Gospel from John 9:1-41, a man blind from birth is given sight through a miracle which Jesus performs on the Sabbath. The Pharisees questioned the man about how he had come to see. When he told them about the mud and washing in the waters of Siloam (more than once), they concluded Jesus must be a sinner because he healed on the Sabbath. The man testified and witnessed to the truth, in spite of being thrown out of the Synagogue. The Pharisees, in spite of their learning, could not put behind their hatred and jealousy of Jesus. They denied the Truth which was right before their blinded eyes.
When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out,he found him and said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"He answered and said, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”Jesus said 
to him,“You have seen him,the one speaking with you is he.”He said,“I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him.Then Jesus said,“I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” (New American Bible on USCCB.org)
We, like the blind man, are called during Lent to pass "from the darkness of sin and error to the Light of God, who is the Risen Christ."

The liturgical color for this Sunday is rose, just as in the third Sunday of Advent. Our Lenten journey is half-way over. Easter is in three weeks. Have you grown in the light of Christ this Lent? Although I'm excited for the coming of Easter, I'm honestly glad it's a bit later this year. I still have work to do in preparing myself spiritually for the Resurrection of the Lord, and I'm glad to have three more weeks in this penitential season.

Yesterday, I had the honor of helping with a Lenten retreat at my parish for the Confirmation students. The day began with an opportunity for confession. So many Catholics avoid and fear the confessional. We must keep in mind that the priest is not "waiting in the box" to judge us. Rather, he waits in "Persona Christi" to heal us. I have had more than one priest explain to me that when he leaves the confessional, he forgets what he has heard. This grace is a gift to our spiritual fathers--they are healers, not throwers of stones. Christ came to redeem us through his blood on the Cross. He does not call his priests to chastise us. When I confess my sins and then look to the priest, how many times have I heard, "Thank God for your good confession" when I think "What is wrong with me that I keep committing the same sins?" The more frequently I get myself to confession, the more grace God provides for me to deal with the struggles and frustrations of life in the world.

"The 'Easter duty' is still applicable" provides a fabulous explanation of the Church's "minimum requirements" for a Catholic to go to confession and to receive the Eucharist at least once per year.

Heavenly Father, 

You sent our Lord, Jesus Christ, into the world to be the Light for Our Salvation. Help us to be children of the Light, spreading His Truth and Love throughout the world.

Amen.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

I Don't Live in Their House

I admit it. I'm a sinner. Therefore, I frequent the confessional. I try to get to confession at least monthly, but I'm much more peaceful if I go every other week. I'm grateful that our Lord is not a "three strikes and you're out" God, or I would have been condemned years ago.

One of my repeat offenses is "being critical of others." Mind you, I do not "judge" people, which really means that I "condemn them to hell." I know I'm not God and have no authority over another person's soul. However, I'm quick to think, and often enough speak, about what someone else should do to make his or her life better. I think things like, "Why doesn't he see that his decisions about X are the cause of his problems?" Or, "Why can't she just do things this way--then she would feel better, be happy, etc.?" My personality is such that I want to fix things, even if they aren't mine to fix. As a result, my mind races with solutions to all sorts of things that might not really be problems.

As I get older, I'm less critical than I used to be, but often enough I look at situations from my limited view and think I know better than the person in the situation. A friend of mine often says, "I don't live in her house" when someone is being criticized and gossip begins. This phrase is a good reminder to me of two things, not to gossip and not to be so quick to believe I have all the answers. I don't know the whole story of what goes on in that person's life.

How many people live in abusive relationships that are hidden? How many people battle with depression? How many people struggle with addictions? How many people are caring for sick loved one? We can be quick to anger or criticism when someone offends us or seems foolish, but the big picture would likely change our tune. The truth is, the only one who really knows the weight of the crosses we bear is the Lord. He took the weight of all those crosses up Calvary's Hill and stretched out his arms to save us all.

My first two weeks of Lent have included some little sacrifices and a little more prayer, as well as one visit to confession. My family usually makes it to Stations of the Cross most weeks, but we didn't make it the first two weeks of Lent. Honestly, without Stations, it doesn't really feel like Lent. We are planning to go this Friday, which will be a good reminder of Christ's sacrifice as we journey toward Easter.

Rather than focus on what others should do, I will strive this Lent to focus on how I can be a better Christian and witness to the Lord with my life. Instead of criticizing, I must pray for my brothers and sisters to allow God to work in their lives, in his time, not in mine.
And if you be unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods of your fathers, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Joshua 24:15, RSV Catholic Edition 

Friday, March 7, 2014

First Friday of Lent



Today's reflection in the Magnificat is entitled "Why We Fast" by St. Thomas Aquinas. The ideas are very straightforward, but the ideas are also profound. My sleepy mind struggled this morning to comprehend what I was reading the first time, so I read the page a few times. Basically, St. Thomas describes the double nature of human beings--mental and physical.  Our prayer, then, consists of mental and physical manifestations. We internally recognize God and externally pray, fast, adore, and praise.  The external, however, essentially has little meaning without the internal. He says:
So, just as prayer has its origin as something in the mind, and is only in the second place expressed in words, adoration also consists, primarily and in its origin, in an internal reverence of God and only secondarily in certain bodily signs, for example, as genuflections to show our weakness by comparison with God, or prostrations to show that we are nothing ourselves.
What does that mean for us on a practical level?  The people in today's first reading from Isaiah 58:1-9 fulfill the external prescriptions of their fast day, but "carry out [their] own pursuits, and drive all [their] laborers. Yes, [their] fast ends in quarreling and fighting, striking with wicked claw." The reading continues with the Lord telling them this type of fasting is superficial and unfruitful and not what he wants from them. He instead desires:
releasing those bound unjustly...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.
The Lord tells us that when we fast and give alms in this way, from our internal desire for communion with Him, He "will answer" when "we cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!"

Therefore, let us consider our Lenten plans. Are we fasting from chocolate, social media, alcohol, television, or some other vice? These things are truly sacrifices! But what happens internally? Are you filling that space with prayer, spiritual reading, and growing closer to God. If so, you have begun a wonderful Lenten journey! On the other hand, as a response to the fast, are we quarreling and fighting? Do we look gloomy? If so, we must begin again internally, taking the prayer from inside and seeking God first to guide our Lenten disciplines.

On this First Friday of Lent, I encourage you to attend Mass, the Stations of the Cross, or both! Listen deeply to the scripture. Walk the road to Calvary with our Lord. Then ask his guidance for you this Lent.

Dear Heavenly Father,

What sacrifice of mine is most pleasing to you? How can I best serve others and grow closer to you this Lent? Let my sacrifice be pleasing to you. Let my joy this Lent draw me and others closer to you. 

Amen.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

I didn't give up Facebook this year, but everyone else did!

Last year at this time I was experiencing my first pangs of Facebook withdrawal. I gave up Facebook for Lent last year because I realized I had a problem. I wasted many hours "checking in" and "liking" things, not to mention watching important breaking news (links from the local TV station to sensational events on the other side of the country) and cute cat videos. Then, there were the recipes. Pictures of food pulled me in, then I'd read the recipe, then I'd check out five other things on the blog associated with the recipe. Finally, I'd wonder why I couldn't get my work done.

This year, lots of people made their Mardi Gras status, "See you on or after Easter--Fasting from Facebook this Lent."

I had considered fasting from Facebook again this year, but three things changed my mind. First, I maintain two "pages" in addition to my personal page, and this time of year there are many updates  for Western Mass Life Runners and Western Mass Faith-based Films. If I fasted from Facebook, my little, but growing pages would be neglected and I would not be able to communicate information about group runs or spring releases of movies to my viewers. No, it wouldn't be the end of the world, but it was something to consider. Second, I live far from most of my relatives, so Facebook keeps me up to date on their lives. Third, when I realized so many people on my friends list were fasting from Facebook, I realized that I wouldn't have as many notifications pulling me into interesting blogs and recipes. I might be able to limit myself to a quick morning and evening check-in and then go about my day--which was the result of last year's fast, at least for a few months.

So far, so good.  I had 4 notifications this morning compared to 15 yesterday. A quick scan of the Home feed showed a lot of what was already there yesterday. I had one personal message from someone important to me. I was glad I checked in and saw her note so I could respond. Then I logged out. I will be working to limit my social media time this Lent, but it's not my "big fast" this year.

If you gave up Facebook for Lent, don't simply switch to Twitter or another social media site!  The purpose of a fast is to deny ourselves in order to focus that attention on God. Listen prayerfully to what the Lord is asking of you each day, especially during this holy season of Lent.

I'm praying for you! Please pray for me, too, as we continue our journey to Easter.




Sunday, March 2, 2014

Plans for My Lenten Journey

Every day I think about how to make things better in my life. How can I make better use of my resources? How can I be a better homeschooling mom? How can I be a better wife and mother? How can I gain some focus and accomplish things instead of wasting time online looking at recipes and cat videos? When I re-read this paragraph, I see a lot of "I" and feel rather self-centered. I want to do better and be better, but maybe the best way to do that is to become "other-centered."

This past weekend, our parish youth group held a formation meeting where the youth and their parents listened to a talk by Matthew Kelly in which he discussed prayer and habits. He stressed the importance of listening in prayer rather than listing our desires and demands to God for Him to do our will. Kelly also brought to light the significance of our habits in shaping us. Saints and greats differ from the rest of humanity in one significant way, he explained, and the way they differ is in their habits. One example he mentioned was Michael Jordan. When Jordan didn't make the high school basketball team because he wasn't consistent from the free-throw line, he changed his habits. Until he sunk 600 free-throws for the day, he wouldn't go to bed for the night. We know the rest of the story. His habit changed who he was from the kid who got cut to the man who became a basketball legend.

For those who don't have a regular prayer life, Matthew Kelly suggests beginning with 10 minutes of prayer every day.  Follow that simple habit,  Kelly says, and "You won't recognize yourself after six weeks" because you will change for the better. 

I know he's right. A few years ago my prayer life was very sporadic, and I was not joyful. Now, I consistently pray and read the daily readings each morning before my youngest children are awake. I have changed for the better. I still have a long way to go, but that little change, 15 minutes or so each morning with scripture and reflections in the Magnificat has helped me get to know God better. My mornings are pretty good. However, the rest of the day lacks focused prayer time. I receive a few daily emails with reflections on the Catechism, the Gospels, and Danielle Bean's Momnipotent Study. These messages give me reminders of the central role God should have in my life, even when I'm at the computer.

On this Sunday before Lent, my thoughts turn to sacrifice and purification. Lent is a time to turn inwardly, not to be "all about me," but instead to consider what I must do to become a saint. Matthew Kelly stresses "becoming the best version of yourself" and Fr. Pedro at our parish often reminds us that we should all strive to become saints, which of course is the "best version" of ourselves.

How we become saints will be different for each of us. Reading the Bible and books by saints can be a great place to start. Alms giving, prayer, and fasting are the three Lenten disciplines that can be used any time during the year to bring us closer to God. Attending Stations of the Cross on Fridays is a powerful devotion that reminds us how much God loves us--enough to take the sins of the whole world to the Cross. 

As part of my Lenten journey, I am planning to read the first volume of The Mystical City of God by Venerable Mary of Agreda and to include evening prayer as part of my daily habits this Lent. I am also planning to write more reflections in this blog regarding what I read. 

My hope for you and for me is that on Ash Wednesday, March 5, 2014, we will begin a journey that prepares us to receive Jesus with full Easter Joy on April 20, 2014, knowing and loving Him more than we knew we could.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.