Catholic Girl Journey

The purpose of Lent

Lent is a time to prepare for our walk with Jesus during the Holy Triduum. It is the most sacred, most mysterious, and most intense time in the Church’s calendar. Among other things, it is a time when we are asked to fast and abstain from meat.  So how does only eating fish and vegetables on Fridays help us?

Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are the three activities which the Church recommends during this season. We are asked to fast just two days out of the 40, that is to eat just one regular meal along with two smaller meals and and nothing between meals. These two days are at the beginning and the end of lent, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. She also asks us to abstain from eating meat on all Fridays during lent. While it may seem to help the seafood and pizza industries, the real purpose is to call our attention to the most fundamental aspect of our life — the food that sustains us. We are asked to pay attention not just to what we eat, but how much and when we eat.

When we stop and ask ourselves, ‘can I eat this?’, it makes us think. It also awakens our hunger for something more. When we start saying ‘no’ to our body’s’ craving what we can’t have, the control the material world has in satisfying us starts to diminish. As we open ourselves up to the spiritual realm, we can go deeper into prayer, like the Stations of the Cross or daily Mass. Seeking to strengthen our relationship with God, prayer takes on a more fervent concentration. Here too we now pause and listen, how is God calling us closer?

On the cross, Jesus gave everything away, even His life for us. With almsgiving, we are asked to imitate Christ and give to those in need, not just from our surplus but also to dig a bit deeper so we feel it. While money is the most literal definition for almsgiving, it can extend to our time and talents as well. Volunteering at a charity or soup kitchen, for example,  teaches us compassion and heightens our awareness of others’ poverty.

As a runner trains for a marathon, we are called to intensify our sacrifices so that we can participate more fully in the Easter celebration. Perhaps our efforts will allow us to experience the love of God in a deeper and more personal way on this side of heaven.

Catholic Girl Journey

Repent is not a bad word

Repent is a word strongly associated with Lent. As we get ashes crossed on our foreheads, we may hear, “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Repent can seem to be a scary or bad word. It’s something that we are called to do but really don’t want to do it.

The call to repent is a call to change. The change is a challenge to surrender our control to God. Surrender control? That sounds scary. What if we don’t like what God wants us to do? Maybe we won’t be happy with what He has planned for us? In our comfortable lives we look at the lives of the saints, even the popular ones like St. Francis of Assisi, and read about how austere their lives were. They were poor in the eyes of the world. It can be hard to get our heads wrapped around a call like that. Perhaps God will ask too much of us and ask us to give everything up. Could we do that?

God calls each of us to a relationship with Him. The deeper our relationship, the less that material things matter. Why? Because everything comes from God. If He blesses you with wealth, then it’s for His purpose. If He calls you to a life of poverty, it’s so that you can rely on Him to sustain you. In either scenario, you are letting God come into your life and change you, to form you into what He wants you to be. Our fear should not be of God Himself, but rather the fear of disappointing Him and not using the talents He gives us to better our corner of the world. It may be a bit scary giving up what we want to do, but if we don’t know what God is calling us to do, why do we dread it and close our hearts to Him? Just a quick look around nature, seeing the variety and marveling in it should be enough to convince us that with God leading us, we will be able to go places that we’ve never been or even dreamed to go. And we may end up liking it more than we knew was possible.

If you still don’t like the word repent, that’s okay. Maybe when you hear it, think instead of turning away from yourself and turning to Jesus.

May our Lenten journey bring us closer to Jesus and allow us to stand at the foot of the cross on Good Friday and to experience the joy of the resurrection on Easter morning.

Catholic Girl Journey

Outcast

Leprosy may not have been a death sentence to the afflicted when Jesus was on earth, but rather a sentence of solitary confinement. A leper was an outcast; avoided by all.

As a bacterial infection, the disease is treatable today, but prior to modern medicine, those suffering had to live away from the community. They were cut off from everyone except others suffering from the disease. When out walking they had to announce their disease, so that people would not get close to them. This highly-contagious illness is spread by coughing or sneezing and, while the ancient world may not have known how it was spread, they knew they needed to isolate the sick from the healthy.

Even so, at least one with such a isolated life knew about Jesus and His healing power. He begged at Jesus’ feet to make him clean. From either courage or desperation, and perhaps a mix of both, the leper does something that he’s not allowed to do: approach a clean person. Yet he not only approaches, but also kneels and announces his faith in Jesus by saying, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Jesus has pity on the man and cures him, instructing him not to tell anyone, but to go to the Temple with the prescribed offering. Instead, the man proclaims his healing to the point where Jesus cannot even enter a town openly. (Mk 1: 40-45)

We don’t know how long the man lived as a leper. What we do know is that his joy at returning to the community was demonstrated by the publicizing of his healing. He wanted to tell everyone, not just that he was healed, but by Jesus, the itinerant preacher and miracle worker.  His days of being an outcast were over and he could now mingle with friends and strangers alike. His healing made him whole and brought him back into the community.

Illness can do the same to us today, maybe not to the degree of being an outcast from all of society, but depending on the disease, it can be easier to retreat from others rather than to be in the crowd. Yet when we are healed, who do we thank first? Do we proclaim God’s generosity at healing us, or do we thank the caregivers who delivered the treatment? Could it be that we are embarrassed to proclaim God’s intervention in such a secular culture? Are we afraid of being outcasts if we give God the glory for a healing?

God’s providence is at the root of all healing. From an aspirin to cutting-edge technology, God is the inspiration behind medicine. The healer may take on a different name and face, but God works through them to heal His people. Let us give Him the thanks, praise and glory due to such a loving and merciful God who wants to heal, not just our bodies, but our relationship with Him.

Catholic Girl Journey

Receiving peace

Peace seems to be elusive in today’s world, not just at a global level, but even down to our individual lives.  It seems to escape us the more vigorously we chase it. Perhaps it’s not something to be captured, but rather given and received.

In a recent gospel passage from daily Mass, Jesus sends 72 disciples to prepare the towns and villages for His arrival and to begin to proclaim the good news. His instructions included: ‘On entering any house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If there is a peaceable man there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will come back to you.” (Lk 10:5-6) In a way, this reminds me of Jesus’ first appearance to the Apostles after His resurrection, when He said, “Peace to you.” (Lk 24:36) Peace seems to be given by the person visiting another, that is to say that a visitor does not come to bring dissension, but harmony with and to the household. I’m sure we’ve all had a visitor or two who did not bring peace to the home. Those visits are often uncomfortable and can challenge any peace we may have. But visitors, who — while they may not come in wishing peace upon the house — bring the love, joy and acceptance of friendship — end up making the visit not only enjoyable and also offer the hope for future visits.

While a visitor seems to be the bearer of peace to our homes, it’s almost the reverse in Church. Jesus’ peace is not just given during the Mass when a priest says, “Peace be with you.” His peace is offered to us the moment we step into a church or chapel. However, we cannot take it from Him, rather we need to receive it: to be open to Him. If it were tangible, we would not be able to grab at it, rather we would need to open our hands and let Him place it in our palms. We should strive not be like the guests who come to complain and criticize and then leave without His peace. Even though we are on His turf, so to speak, we still need to be like the homeowner who welcomes a visitor and lets His peace rest upon all within, no matter the distractions around us.

How beautiful it is when peace, either from Jesus or a visitor, rests on us; it is precisely this peace that we can then offer to others. It’s truly a gift.

Catholic Girl Journey

Action or reaction?

This past Sunday’s readings were an interesting complement from Old to New Testament. The first reading was from the book of Jonah and Mark’s gospel spoke of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. While on the surface they may not seem very similar, a closer look may cause us to question how we would respond.

Many of us are familiar with the story of Jonah and his stay in the belly of a whale. But the Sunday reading was about the city of Nineveh where he reluctantly goes to preach after being spewed out on the beach by said whale. More precisely, it’s about the  reaction of the people of Nineveh to Jonah’s message. While we don’t know what evil actions precipitated God’s threat to destroy the whole city, there must have been widespread need for repentance.  The city was large; it took 3 whole days to walk through it. However, word can spread faster than the messenger can carry it, and Jonah had only been walking one day when the whole city believed the message. Would you believe if someone started walking through your city or town announcing imminent destruction? Or would you laugh and scoff at that person? The fact that they believed the message is rather incredible. Or is it? Since God is all-knowing, perhaps he knew they would respond, and thus gave them this opportunity to correct their relationship with Him. But the citizens didn’t just believe the message and say, “Ooops, sorry God. We’ll do better.” They reacted to the message by taking action: they proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth.

In Mark’s gospel, as Jesus begins to preach He says, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mk 1:15) He calls us first to repent, to change our ways. Only after we have taken action to change can we believe in the message He brings. As he begins to call followers, Simon, Andrew, James and John all must make a decision. They must stop what they are doing, leave their families and livelihoods in order to follow Jesus. They didn’t tell Jesus to wait until they untangled the nets; and they didn’t tell Him they would catch up with Him. He called and they responded, just like the citizens of Nineveh.

How do you respond when God calls you? Do you react? Or do you take action?

Catholic Girl Journey

Awesome root canal

Many jest saying they’d rather have a root canal than deal with whatever difficulty they are currently facing , but after having one, I have to admit it’s really quite awesome.

I was very lucky, my only symptom was a bubble in my gum that would come and go; I had no pain. My endodontist is a rather jolly fellow who enjoys his work and took the time to explain the procedure to me. As the procedure can be rather lengthy, there’s not much one can do but sit, meditate, and pray. So there I sat, in between Hail Marys, thinking about my eyetooth that was being drilled, drained and then plugged. A tooth is not that big, and to go inside to clean out an even smaller area than the tooth itself is amazing! Being such detailed work, it’s a wonder that a human can do  it. All the branches of medicine have progressed, and continue to do so. Is that what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God?

I started to think about some of the details that God created: a minuscule atom, a drop of water, a baby’s breath flower, a cat’s fur, and a human being.  There is such variety in his creation  from a field full of kaleidoscope-colored flowers to men and women with so many different skills and interests. Dentistry is not something that interests me, but clearly my doctor loves his job. It takes people with an interest to study, understand and make progress in their field of work, not just in the medical profession, but in every field including business and agriculture. It’s amazing that there are people interested in focusing in just a small part of their field to really know it and progress its understanding. Yes, God has created us all, but he made us unique so we can cooperate with Him as creation continues.

While my initial intention was to offer up any suffering and discomfort during the procedure to God for the holy souls in Purgatory, I was quite surprised that I had such a spiritual journey during the root canal. I’m very thankful that I didn’t lose the tooth and that the recovery has been relatively benign. God has truly blessed us. I only hope I can do my part to further His creative work to make things even better for the future. How? I don’t know, but if I try to do His will, I’m sure He will use me in some way for the good of others both now and for the future.

Catholic Girl Journey

Reality

How do you determine what is real? It’s a simple question, but is there a quick or easy answer?

I received a coloring book for Christmas from some friends entitled Jesus Calling by Sarah Young (they know me way too well).   Besides the  illustrations to color, this book has  quotes for reflection. One of these got me pondering:

I am far more REAL than the world you can see, hear, and touch.

When I first read it, the correlation that came to mind was Bishop Barron referring to  St. Thomas Aquinas’ teaching on this topic: “God is the essence of being itself.” While that may answer the question of how can God be more real than the world around us, it doesn’t  explain the impact of God being more real than the world around us.

As humans, we live our whole lives based on our encounters in the world with people, places, and things. In a way our lives are a response to our experiences. We are immersed in what we see, hear and touch. We use these senses to understand and react every second of every day. Our reality is based upon our understanding. So if God is more real than what we live every second of the day, what is reality? I’ve been thinking about this for a week now, and I’m not sure, beyond “God is being itself”, that there is a simple answer. But I think it is still a question that every person should ask themselves.

Since God created the world in which we are immersed, it does contain a reflection of Him. Perhaps reality is seeing the various facets of God in the things around us. Maybe it’s seeing the qualities of God in the world He created: the warmth of the sun, the strength of the mountains, and the cleansing of a rain shower. As we are created in God’s image and likeness, do we see Him in others that we encounter?

Perhaps the question to really ponder is: how real is God to you?