Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return

Hopefully by this time on Ash Wednesday you have heard these words and had ashes placed on your forehead.  But why do we do this?  It runs counter to Jesus words in today’s Gospel.

“When you pray,
do not be like the hypocrites,
who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners
so that others may see them.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

Yet here we are running around with ashes smeared on our foreheads for everyone to see.  No, the ashes aren’t there to show everybody how holy we are.  The key is in the words the priest or deacon speaks.  We are dust and we’re going to return to dust.  What you see now is just our intermediate state.  We only pass through this life for a short time.  On this Ash Wednesday glance in the mirror once in a while and be reminded of where we came from and where we’re going.

40 Myths About the Catholic Church

Last year during Lent I published a series of posts on 40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic.  It was part of my Lenten penance and if you read all 40 of them, then I suppose it was part of your penance too.  I’m continually surprised when WordPress tells me that people are still reading those posts nearly a year later.  I remember from my secular blogging days that people love lists, so I guess the one-post-per-day format for Lent must have been a success.

“Here’s the thing.  Today is Ash Wednesday and I have a decision to make.  Should I try it again?  If so, what forty things can I write about that people will find interesting, keeping in mind that I’m going to have to keep it up for six weeks?
This Monday, when our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI announced his intention to retire at the end of this month, I noticed that the Catholic-bashers came out in full force.  I also noticed that the justification for their hatred of all things Catholic has little or no basis in fact.  As our beloved Bishop Fulton Sheen once said, “No one hates the Catholic Church,  But millions of people hate what they think the Catholic Church is.”  (This is a paraphrase because I don’t have the exact quote in front of me, but it’s basically what he said.)

There is so much misinformation out there about Catholics, even among Catholics themselves, that I think this will be a timely and useful series.  I hope you agree.  If you don’t, feel free to comment.  After constructive criticism is why God gave us the “delete” button.  (Just kidding.)  I enjoy the conversation and appreciate the opportunity to learn something.

Stay tuned.

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic–Postscript

I hope you enjoyed my series of posts for Lent.  The whole idea actually started as my Lenten penance.  It was quite a challenge to post every day for almost six weeks.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit I was able to pull it off, even if some posts were written late in the day.  The original plan was to get a few days ahead to relieve the pressure of daily posting.  Sometimes I was successful.  Sometimes, not so much.

The question I’m asking myself now, am I a better Catholic today than I was on Ash Wednesday?  I’d like to answer in the affirmative.  I believe I can if only because some of the forty posts took a fair amount of research, so at least I know more now than I did on February 22.  I think that’s reasonable goal for everyone for the season of Lent.  Are you a better person, a better Catholic, or to paraphrase Matthew Kelly, a better version of yourself than you were at the end of Ordinary Time?

I also learned a lot from comments I received here on the blog, on Facebook and LinkedIn, and via email.  I learned that there are a lot of smart people who have somehow found their way here.  Many of the comments were positive and encouraging.  Thank you for that.  Some comments were negative and discouraging.  Thank you for that, too.  Some criticism was valid and I hope I’ve learned from it.  Some wasn’t valid and I learned from that, by justifying what I’d written in my own mind.  I takes thick skin to be a deacon.

What I did find a little discouraging was that some people will take any excuse to push their personal agenda.  Yes, I’m very pro-life.  Abortion and artificial birth control are very important issues.  But they don’t belong in the comments box under a post about a totally unrelated topic.  Are people’s attention spans that short?  Or, are they so wrapped up in their own particular issues that they’ll hijack any comment thread to get their thoughts out on the web?  My suggestion to those folks is, get your own blog!  People quickly lose interest in a blog’s comments when they go off-topic and never make their way back.

For now, I’ll continue to post here on a semi-regular basis.  If you would like to make a suggestion for another series, I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks again for reading/following my little dog and pony show.  Please keep us in your prayers as I do you.

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #35 Fish Fries

Leave it to us Catholics to turn a penance into (1) a fund-raiser and (2) a competition.

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.  For a lot of parishes, the annual fish fry season (aka Lent) became a major fund raiser.  After all, why shouldn’t we invite our neighbors, Catholic and nonCatholic alike, to join us in our annual penance and make a few bucks at the same time.  Running a Catholic church, especially one with a school ain’t cheap.  We need all the help we can get.

Since Lent is only six weeks long, the competition between parishes to lay claim to the title of “best” is fierce in some areas.  Some claim to have the best fish.  Some claim to have the best side dishes.  Some claim to have the best home-made deserts.  Then there’s the ambiance.  There’s live music. There are themed fish fries.  At least one local parish has a “Mexican Fish Fry.”  (It’s very good, by the way.)

A lot of people, my wife and I among them, spend the Fridays in Lent traveling to a different parish every week.  We have some favorites that we never miss but we also like to try at least a couple of new ones each year.  Local media run competitions, scoring free fish in the process.  Besides being a good way to raise funds (even though a good fish fry is a tremendous amount of work) it’s also very ecumenical.  Some folks who normally wouldn’t be caught within a hundred yards of a Catholic church have no problem enjoying a great plate of fried fish, french fries and cole slaw.  Who knows when one of them might decide to convert.  Hey, it could happen.

By the way, there’s nothing that says fish fries have to be Catholic.  VFW posts, Lion’s Clubs, Moose Lodges, and others can, and do, have great fish, some of them every Friday of the year.  But when it comes to the total package, there’s nothing quite like a good ol’ Catholic fish fry.

I won’t say where (mostly because I haven’t cleared it with my lovely wife yet), but we will be chowing down on some Catholic fish somewhere before this day is over.

Don’t forget, Peter, the first Pope, and several of the other Apostles were fisherman.

Catholic fish fries are definitely cool.

By the way, fish fries aren’t the only Catholic fund-raiser.  We’re also known for Bingo, trivia nights, mouse races, silent auctions, and a lot of other stuff.  None of these things are exclusively Catholic, but we do them and we do them well.  I think if you did a word-association test with random people on a street corner and you said the word Catholic, you’d get an awful lot of “fish fry” and “Bingo” responses.

Like I said earlier, most parishes, especially ones with schools, rely on fund raisers to survive.  Besides, it’s a lot of fun to get together with your fellow parishioners to put on a successful event.