Lent—How Did You Do?

We’re just about to the end of Lent.  (It ends tomorrow evening).  So how did you do?  Have you successfully given up something for the entire 40 days?  Have you done something extra every day?  Or are you a fallible human being?

Personally, I’ve been more successful in the “giving up” than in the “doing extra”.  The things I decided to give up for Lent are mostly still gone.  But I’ve fallen short, sometimes very short in the things I thought I would be able to add.  This blog is a perfect example.  My plan was to post something each day.  I started pretty well, but as you can see, my last post was March 24.  EPIC LENT FAIL!  Not only was it an epic fail, it was a very public fail.

Other things, like my plan to focus more on my prayer life, may be failures, but at least no one knows but me (and God).

The 12 Step programs have a slogan, “progress, not perfection”.  Isn’t that what being a Catholic is all about.  We may strive for perfection, but we know that progress is the most we can hope for.  The writer Matthew Kelly prays that God will make him the best version of himself.  It’s a great prayer.  If we ask God to make us better, He will.  If we ask Him to make us perfect, we’re going to be disappointed.

Thomas Merton wrote “I believe the desire to please you does in fact please you.” (Thoughts in Solitude).  Progress, not perfection.

I don’t think we can rate ourselves when it comes to Lent.  We’re all humans.  All God wants from us is our best.  Our best isn’t the same as someone else’s best.  If we’ve done all we can then He can’t ask for anything more.  If you’re a better version of yourself than you were on Ash Wednesday, you’ve had a successful Lent.

I hope you’ve had a great Lent and that you’ll have a great Easter.

 

Third Sunday of Lent

Today I’d like to talk a little bit about Matthew Kelly’s book,  Resisting Happiness.  If you haven’t read it the title seems a little ridiculous. Who would resist happiness?

 

The answer is that we all do, maybe not consciously, but it’s in our human nature to resist real, true happiness and most of us do it all the time. True happiness, the kind Kelly writes about, is found with God. It’s what we’re all after. But how many times have we put off reading the Bible to watch a ball game? How many times have we skipped mass because we have “something better” to do? How many small things that we could do to help others are pushed aside in favor of something that may seem important but doesn’t lead to real happiness.

 

Two weeks ago Jan and I were in Huntsville, AL. We went to mass at Saint Mary Church of the Visitation. It’s a pretty little church and like Saint John’s it’s on the edge of downtown so it draws a fairly diverse congregation. Ironically, the pastor is Father William Kelly. Since Matthew Kelly is Australian and Father Kelly is definitely American, I don’t think they’re related.

 

But Father Kelly is an excellent preacher and I have been known to borrow something from him from time to time.

 

Two weeks ago the theme of his homily was “Don’t sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the temporary.” “Don’t sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the temporary.” This is very much in line with Resisting Happiness. I felt like God was speaking to me and I had to share the message with you. Then I looked at today’s first reading.

 

Moses was leading his people out of Egypt and all they did was complain. They thought he was taking them into the desert to die. He was leading them to the Promised Land and they just wanted to whine. Look at the third strophe of today’s Responsorial Psalm, God says, “Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the desert, where your fathers tempted me.” Meribah and Massah are the scene of the first reading.

 

But how often do we act just like Moses’ people? God has given us everything but still we complain. We don’t have enough stuff! “Don’t sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the temporary.”

 

Jesus covers this pretty well in the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you ‘Give me a drink’, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.” Jesus calls himself a gift, and that’s what He is. God gave us the gift of His Son. That’s so far beyond our understanding that I have a hard time thinking about it, let alone explaining it to others. Who would do that??? Who would give up His only Son to save someone else? But that’s what He did, whether we can understand it or not.

 

All we have to do is show our gratitude, worship God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God knows that we’re weak creatures who may try to be good Christians, but how often do we fail? “Never sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the temporary.” Easy to say but hard to do.

 

Fortunately for us, God understands us better than we understand Him. He knows how often we fail. In the Lord’s prayer we ask Him to forgive us our trespasses. That’s our faith and our hope. No matter how many times we come up short, He’s always there, waiting for us to come back to Him and ask Him for forgiveness.

 

Hopefully we’ve all chosen a penance for Lent. Maybe we’re giving up something. Maybe we’re doing something extra. Maybe you’re watching Matthew Kelly’s daily videos. Today is day 18. No matter what we’re doing, forty days is a long time. Chances are we’re going to slip up. The good news is that in our failing we see our flawed human nature and know that we have a forgiving Father to hold us and comfort us and to let us know that it’s ok.

 

We all sin, even though we know that it might keep us from going to heaven, which is for all eternity. At the time the temporary pleasure that may be sinful gives us immediate happiness. That’s when we get in trouble.

 

During this Holy season of Lent, remember, “Never sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the temporary.”

 

 

From the 6th Chapter of Luke’s Gospel:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

“Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Give and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.
For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.”

Why is this so hard  for so many of us (m0st of us?  all of us?)   It ain’t rocket science.  It ain’t brain surgery.  You don’t even have to stay at a Holiday Inn Express to understand it.

Do yourself a favor.  Find a quiet place and spend ten minutes meditating on these words.  I promise it will change your attitude toward life.  Then, make yourself  repeat this process every day for the remainder of Lent.  I promise it will make you a new person.

The Lord’s Prayer

Today’s Gospel reading may well be one of the most significant passages in all of Scripture.  Jesus tells His disciples how to pray.

“In praying, do not babble like the pagans,
who think that they will be heard because of their many words.
Do not be like them.
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Then He teaches them the Lord’s Prayer.

When you talk to God, don’t babble.  Too often we treat God like Santa Claus.  Give me this! Give me that!  Give me patience, Lord!  DO IT NOW!

The Lord’s Prayer can be dangerous in that we ask Him to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, but Jesus tells the Disciples this.

“If you forgive men their transgressions,
your heavenly Father will forgive you.
But if you do not forgive men,
neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”

If you’re not ready to forgive then maybe you shouldn’t ask God to treat you the same way.  I’m just sayin…….

The Ten Commandments

For centuries there was no debate about the Ten Commandments.  Moses brought them down from the mountain and everyone took them to heart.  “Thou shalt not kill.”  “Thou shalt not steal.”  Nothing controversial about that.

But here in the twenty first century, things are different.  Misguided people have found problems with God’s commandments.  First you have those who don’t believe that killing an unborn child is wrong.  They call their stand “pro choice” and say that it’s about women’s health care.

I’ll say this.  Thou shalt not kill also applies to capital punishment and I’m against that too.  But, at least I can understand why someone would think it’s ok to execute a convicted murderer.  I don’t agree, but I can understand the reasoning.  But how anyone could possibly think it’s ok to murder an innocent, unborn baby is beyond my comprehension.  It just doesn’t make sense to me.  Anyone who would like to try to explain it to me, take your best shot.

Then we have the issue of atheists who believe the Ten Commandments are religious and so have no place in the public square.  Again, an argument I can’t comprehend.  A murdered atheist is just as dead as a murdered Christian.  In fact, in our belief system even more so.  Why is being opposed to murder or stealing or any of the other eight commandments a religious principle that violates anyone’s rights?

Every society, whether they’ve even heard of Moses, has some sort of moral code that looks an awful lot like the Ten Commandments.  They may be codified in the Bible, but they’re not religious.

Friday after Ash Wednesday

Yay, it’s Friday!  Not the ordinary TGIF type of Friday, but the first day of Catholic fish fry season.  Where I live, in Saint Louis, MO, you can’t throw a rock during Lent without hitting a great fish fry, and we take advantage of as many of them as possible.  You get a great meal and you help your local parish.

I am traveling today and was surprised to see that Catholic fish fries apparently aren’t a universal phenomenon.  I guess other places aren’t as into fried fish as we are in the Gateway City.  That’s too bad.

As I wrote in a series of posts called 40 reasons why it’s cool to be Catholic, way back in 2012, reason number 35 was Catholic fish fries.  I wrote back then,

“When the Church said we couldn’t eat meat on Friday the parish fish fry was born.  When it was decided that we only had to abstain on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and the Fridays of Lent, we turned it into an art form.”

So, do yourself a favor today and instead of settling for a Filet O’Fish, head for your local parish and enjoy the real thing.

What makes for a practicing Catholic

I came across this post from Father Ron Holheiser O.F.M. and I thought it would be a good way to start Lent.  This is one of the best explanations on this topic I’ve ever seen.   Enjoy!

There’s a national phone-in show on radio in Canada that I try to catch whenever I can. Recently its topic for discussion was: Why do so few people go to church today? The question triggered a spirited response. Some called in and said that the churches were emptying because they were too progressive, too sold-out to the culture, too devoid of old, timeless truth. These calls would invariably be followed by others that suggested exactly the opposite, namely, that the churches are emptying because they are too slow to change, too caught up in old traditions that no longer make sense.

And so it went on, caller after caller, until one man phoned in and suggested that the real issue was not whether the church was too progressive or regressive. Rather, in his view, less and less people were going to church because “basically people treat their churches exactly the way they treat their own families; they want them around, but they don’t go home to visit them all that much!” The comment reminded me of Reginald Bibby, the Canadian sociologist of religion, who likes to quip: “People aren’t leaving their churches, they just aren’t going to them – and that is a difference that needs to be understood.”

Indeed it does. There is a difference between leaving a family and just not showing up regularly for its celebrations. This distinction in fact needs to shape the way we answer a number of important questions: Who belongs to the church? What makes for a practising Christian? When is someone’s relationship to the church mortally terminated? What does it mean to be outside the church? As well, this distinction impacts on the question as to who is entitled to receive the rites of baptism, eucharist, confirmation, marriage, and Christian burial.

People are treating their churches just like they treat their families. Isn’t that as it should be? Theologically the church is family – it’s not like family, it is family. A good ecclesiology then has to look to family life to properly understand itself (the reverse of course is also true). Now if we place the questions we just posed within the context of family life, we have there, I believe, the best perspective within which to answer them. Thus, inside of our families: Who is in and who is out? When does someone cease being a “practicing” member of a family? Does someone cease to be a member of a family because he or she doesn’t come home much any more? Do we refuse to give a wedding for a son or daughter just because he or she, caught up in youth and self-interest, hasn’t come home the last couple of years for Easter and Christmas? Not exactly abstract questions!

Many of us have children and siblings who for various reasons, at this stage of their lives, largely use the family for their own needs and convenience. They want the family around, but on their terms. They want the family for valued contact at key moments (weddings, births of children, funerals, anniversaries, birthdays, and so on) but they don’t want a relationship to it that is really committed and regular. A lot of families are like that. They understand this, accept it, swallow hard sometimes, and remain a family despite it. In any extended family, it’s natural that, while everyone is a member of the family, there will be different levels of participation. Some will give more, others will take more. Some, by virtue of maturity, will carry most of the burden – they will arrange the dinners, pay for them, keep inviting the others, do most of the work, and take on the task of trying to preserve the family bond and ethos. Others, because of youthful restlessness, immaturity, self-interest, confusion, peer-pressure, laziness, anger, whatever, will carry less, take the family for granted, and buy in largely on their own terms. That describes most families and is also a pretty accurate description of most churches. There are different levels of participation and maturity, but there is only one church and that church, like any family, survives precisely because some members are willing to carry more of the burden than others. Those others, however, except for more exceptional circumstances, do not cease being members of the family. They ride on the grace of the others, literally. It’s how family works; how grace works; how church works.

Church must be understood as family: Certain things can put you out of the family, true. However, in most families, simple immaturity, hurt, confusion, distraction, laziness, youthful sexual restlessness, and self-preoccupation – the reasons why most people who do not go to church stay away – do not mortally sever your connection. You remain a family member. You don’t cease being “a practicing member” of the family because for a time you aren’t home very much. Families understand this. Ecclesial family, church, I believe, needs to be just as understanding.