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!

Take Away My Blindness

4th Sunday of Lent (March 30, 2014)

1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a

Psalm 23:1-6

Eph 5:814

John 9:1-41

This past weekend, my wife Angie and I went with 13 middle school students from St. Andrew’s to the Middle School Youth Retreat put on by the Lexington Diocese. There were roughly 70 middle school aged kids that attended this retreat. Yup…70 kids ranging in age from 11 to 14 years old…All together…In one place. Have you ever seen 70 middle schoolers all jacked up on sugar under one roof? It wasn’t a pretty sight. Trust me…Skittles, Oreos, Twinkies and soda should not be a bedtime snack. Then I had to try and fall asleep in a cabin full of boys while they were competing with each other by seeing who could, how do I put this, make the loudest noise with their body. These noises usually prompted laughter from everyone except me. My wife had to sleep in the girls cabin. Since Angie and I don’t have any daughters, I tried to get all the girls to give her a make over, but somehow she managed to avoid it.

This my friends, is what Lent is all about…doing penance. As far as I can tell, I’ve fulfilled my Lenten penance by going on that retreat and bringing back all the kids alive!

Don't they look so nice and innocent...

Don’t they look so nice and innocent…

So how’s your Lent going so far? We’re past the halfway point. I’m sure many of you have been asked by now from a non-Catholic what the purpose of Lent is or why we Catholics “give up” something during this time period. My simple answer is that we use this time to try and rid ourselves of the things that prevent us from seeing God clearer. That might mean watching less TV so we can spend more time reading Scripture. Or maybe it means eating less junk food so we are healthier and have more energy to use our God given talents for good.

I’ve done the typical giving up chocolate, alcohol, late night snacks, etc in the past. I wanted to challenge myself a little more this year. That’s when I came up with not shaving my face. Hence the scruffiness you see before you.

Fr. Alan Carter (right) and myself (left) before celebrating Mass at the retreat.

Fr. Alan Carter (right) and myself (left) before celebrating Mass at the retreat.

I know you’re probably thinking, “Not shaving? Well that’s just being plain lazy! How can that get you closer to God?” Well, It gets me out of my comfort zone. Every time someone asks me about my beard, it gives me the opportunity to explain to them about Lent and that I’m Catholic. Who would have thought that a beard could be an evangelization tool? But deep down it did feel a little lazy so I decided, in addition to the beard, that I would read 30 minutes from the New Testament each day just to cover my bases! And guess what I found out while reading the Bible? Throughout Scripture, Jesus is trying to open people’s eyes to the Good News. He’s trying to get people out of their comfort zone so they will go out and tell others about Him (whether you have a beard or not!).

That brings us to today’s Gospel reading from John about the blind man. In those days, blindness was a symbol of the fallen mind. If someone was born blind, it was thought that God was punishing him or her for their sins or their parent’s sins. Jesus, however, says this is not true. He then said something that absolutely blew my mind the first time I really understood what he meant. Jesus said that the man was blind “so that the works of God might be made visible through him.” Did you catch that? The man was born blind specifically so that one day he would meet Jesus Christ face to face and have his sight restored.

How many times do we question God as to why we are struggling or suffering? Maybe it’s with finances, living with a physical disability, not having the perfect house or living a perfect life. This is probably the most common sin I commit. Not having faith in God’s plan for my life. Sure I absolutely adore the plan when it’s going well, but man do I like to complain the moment things get a little shaky.

What if I were to tell you that everything that weighs you down…all of your fears, all of your struggles…could possibly serve a higher purpose? The problem is that we don’t see things the way Christ does. The blind man from the Gospel probably questioned God on more than one occasion as to why he was born blind. Being blind in that era was a tough life, especially when everyone was thinking you were blind because of your sins. Who would have believed that the purpose in life for the blind man in today’s Gospel was to personally witness a miracle at the hands of God and have it recorded in Scripture for future generations to read. That man probably went out into the world on fire for his new found faith! There’s no telling how many people found their salvation in Christ through that man’s testimony.

Christ is the light of the world because He testifies to the Truth. In order to understand that truth, you must study and learn your faith. You must read Scripture on a regular basis. You need to allow Christ to lift the darkness from your eyes so as to let the light in. Christ is the light that gives our lives hope.

wine

That’s why I agreed to chaperone the Middle School retreat. The theme centered on explaining the Mass in a whole new way. I knew the retreat would help lift the blindness from these kids’ eyes regarding their understanding of the Mass. It would take an experience sometimes labeled as “boring” by this age group, and make it exciting. These students are now to go out into the world as a light of Christ to proclaim this excitement to others. It was fun watching them get excited about their faith and become closer to Christ. Just don’t feed them sugar right before bed and expect them to sleep!

Too much sugar, not enough sleep!

Too much sugar, not enough sleep!

So how about you? What struggles are you dealing with? What sins are keeping you from having a closer relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church? Are you having trouble seeing God’s plan and purpose for your life? Maybe it’s time to ask God in prayer to take away your blindness so that you can see things with the eyes of Christ. But be careful what you ask for. Once He takes away your blindness, you will have no other option but to follow His light.