Lent and Donuts

1st Sunday of Lent (February 18, 2018) Year B

Genesis 9:8-15

Psalm 25:4-5,6-7,8-9

1 Peter 3:18-22

Mark 1:12-15

Well ladies and gentlemen, how’s your Lent going so far? We are only a few days into our 40-day journey through the desert. Are you going through chocolate or coffee withdrawals yet? Is your swear jar full yet? I hope whatever you picked to give up for Lent this year is both challenging and rewarding. I also hope you don’t look at Lent as “just another thing I have to do as a Catholic.” I pray that you actually get the full experience and all of the graces possible from this journey. In order to help you, I thought it might be good for a little pep talk today since we’re just beginning our desert journey. That way you can evaluate if you’re on the right path or if you may need to fine-tune something. In order to do this, I came up with two questions we need to make sure we understand.

The first question is simply, “Why do Catholics give something up for Lent?” It actually can be taken from today’s Gospel passage from Mark. It says, “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days.” And what happens after Jesus’ time in the desert is up? He begins His public ministry. So he needed time away with fewer distractions to prepare for something bigger yet to come. What can we extrapolate from this? We humans, all too often, clutter up our lives with stuff that we don’t need or with stuff we use too often. And unfortunately, these things can divert us from the bigger picture… God. Food, money, technology, stuff. These things aren’t bad in and of themselves, but often we put too much emphasis on them, which leads us to lose focus on what’s really important.

So we all need to evaluate our lives and ask ourselves, “What do I unnecessarily do or use that could be taking me away from God?” Do I spend too much time on my phone when I could be reading a spiritual book? Do I eat too much of a certain unhealthy food that is leading me to have no energy for works of charity? Do I spend too much time using my speech for negativity rather than prayer? Whatever it is you choose to give up for Lent, it should be challenging. Remember, this is our desert journey. Although I’ve never hiked through a desert, I imagine it is not a pleasant activity.

The second question that needs to be asked and understood is, “Why don’t Catholics eat meat on Friday’s of Lent?” First, understand that when we say “meat” we are referring to non-fish meat like steak, pork and chicken. Back in Jesus’ day, the “common people” lived by the water and ate a lot of fish. It was the food of the poor, it was abundant and it was cheap. The other meat like beef, pork and chicken was for the upper class since it was more expensive. Occasionally, the less wealthy would eat these meats during a special feast like at a wedding.

So not eating meat on Friday’s of Lent, with the exception of fish, reminds us that we are the common people and we’re not celebrating a banquet just yet. We should be using this time to focus on what’s to come…. Good Friday. This act of abstaining from meat on Fridays is something that Catholics around the world do universally and in solidarity with one another. We offer this sacrifice up as a universal Church. The individual things we each give up on our own are a personal sacrifice. These two sacrifices, the universal and the personal, reminds us that we are united as God’s people and that we are not attached to the material things of this world.

Sounds easy right? Nope… not really! Anyone that is willing to change and become closer to God, needs to do it with open eyes. To put it another way, living in sin is easy. Our world allows us the freedom to mess up our lives daily through sin. And once you start going down the path of the “bigger sins,” the “little sins” just keep piling up without a second thought. However, it takes effort to turn away from sin and evil. It takes effort to live with faith, ethics and morals. Why? This also goes back to today’s Gospel from Mark. Remember, we read that Jesus went into the desert for 40 days. Then there are 3 little words in the next sentence that we often skim right over… He was “tempted by Satan.” Yup, just like us, Jesus was tempted by Satan on His desert journey. When you are trying to do better and walk closer with God, it really makes Satan mad. I’m not saying you’ll by physically assaulted by evil or tempted daily, but isn’t it funny how when you decide to give up sweets for Lent, the very next day someone brings donuts to work… hot… fresh…heavenly… donuts.

So use this Lent as a time of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Detach yourself from the unnecessary material things that you really don’t need. Instead, focus on God. Focus on the Great Banquet that is waiting for each of us after our desert journey is over… Easter. The resurrection of Jesus Christ after Good Friday opened the gates of Heaven for all of us. It gave all of us an invitation to the Great Banquet in Heaven. Use this desert journey to clean up whatever it is that keeps staining your banquet garment. Now is the time to, “Repent, and believe in the gospel” of Jesus Christ!

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Recognize. Trust. Try.

2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday – April 23, 2017)

Acts 2:42-47

Psalm 118:2-4,13-15,22-24

1 Peter 1:3-9

John 20:19-31

For Lent this year, I tried to do something a little different. A priest that I go to for spiritual direction challenged me to focus on 3 areas for Lent: Prayer. Fasting. Almsgiving.

Almsgiving – I decided to go through my very cluttered, very full bedroom closet and clean it out. Clothes that I haven’t worn in a long time were donated to Good Will. I managed to throw away three bags of junk and donate 2 large bags of clothes. This exercise made me realize that I have plenty of “stuff” and it’s good to help others. Plus, if you need help organizing your closet, see me after Mass for some suggestions because I am now an expert!

Fasting – It may sound odd, but I decided to fast from negative speech. I fully realize that this is something I should probably always do, but I must admit that I tend to be more negative than positive. So every time I said something negative, I would stop and prayer an Our Father in my head. That first week… was rough. Let’s just say that I probably said enough Our Father prayers for a lifetime. This exercise made me realize that I actually can change bad behaviors. Plus, I feel like I have become more of an encourager rather than a discourager. Who would you rather be around?

Prayer – For this, I decided to pray a Divine Mercy Chaplet for one week and then start on a book titled, “33 Days To Merciful Love – A Do It Yourself Retreat in Preparation for Consecration to Divine Mercy” by Michael Gaitley. It speaks of God’s loving mercy as seen through the eyes of St. Therese of Lisieux. It’s a great book that takes 34 days to read. You simply read a short, daily reflection for 33 days and then consecrate your heart to God’s Divine Mercy and Love on day 34 by praying the prayer given in the book. I timed this so that my consecration day would be Sunday, April 23, which just so happens to be Divine Mercy Sunday (today). This exercise helped remind me that God’s loving mercy is really… really abundant and so very easy to receive. However, we tend to makes things more complicated.

So let’s go back to the beginning and try to figure out how to uncomplicate God’s Divine Mercy. Let’s go back to the Garden of Eden. Simply put, God said to Adam and Eve, “Here’s paradise. Make it your home. Do what you want. What is mine is yours. Just don’t eat from that one tree.” We know that God did this to protect Adam and Eve. But the sly serpent came along and told a well-crafted lie. And rather than trusting God, Adam and Eve trusted the serpent. This was the beginning of our trust issues with God.

This lack of trust can even be seen in today’s Gospel with the Disciple Thomas. Thomas said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands… I will not believe.” Jesus told them He was coming back. But Thomas didn’t trust since he didn’t see it for himself. So from to the Garden to the Upper Room to the here and now, we still have trust issues with God.

How then can we try to solve this trust issue with God? The first step is to recognize that there is a problem. Recognize that we aren’t perfect and we have a tendency towards sin. This is probably one of the hardest things to do because each sin, each wound in our soul is a reminder of the original sin, which was caused by not trusting God in the first place.

Once we can recognize we have a trust issue with God, the next step is to trust Him anyway! Trust Him that in spite of our shortcomings, He will still love us. Even when we can’t see Him standing in front of us, like Thomas in today’s Gospel, we have to trust that he’s still there with open arms. Furthermore, when we sin and seek His love and forgiveness in the confessional, even with that one sin that we seem to do over and over again, we still have to trust that His love and mercy is bigger than our fallen nature.

And finally, after recognizing our faults, after trusting that God is in control and has abundant mercy and love for each of us, there’s only one thing left to do… try. Keep trying to do better. Try to make this day better than yesterday.

There is a short paragraph in the book I read that sums this up perfectly. To keep trying “means we have to keep striving to grow in holiness. For instance, it means going to Mass and Confession regularly, taking time to pray, and doing the little things with great love. It means forgiving those who have hurt us. It means being sorry for our sins, making a firm resolution not to sin again, and never making a ‘truce’ with sin. It means not settling for complacency or mediocrity or the attitude that says, ‘Well, that’s just who I am.’ In other words, it means striving to be faithful to examining our consciences every day. Also, it means not giving in to discouragement or, God forbid, despair. It means that if we fall into discouragement or despair, we’ll make an effort to get right back up, right back to trusting in God’s mercy. It means trying to remember and keep before our eyes the infinite mercy of God who never tires of forgiving. It means striving to never tire of asking God for forgiveness.” (“33 Days to Merciful Love” by Michael Gaitley, page 119).

Recognize. Trust. Try. This is the formula that allowed St. Therese of Lisieux to grow in holiness. She realized that you don’t need to do great things to attain God’s great love. You simply need to do little things with great love.

So trust God.

Try to live out your faith and recognize that God’s love and mercy is abundant.

He is offering it to you freely.

You simply need to ask Him and He will fill your soul with His Divine Mercy!