Posts Tagged ‘Lent’

Finding God Amid the Scaffolding and Noise

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

Thought you would enjoy this wonderful piece on the Cathedral from Mary DeTurris Poust:

At first, as we walked along the outer edges of the cathedral, trying to avoid wires and boards and construction workers, I wondered aloud why they would even bother to keep the cathedral open under such conditions. But eventually we made our way to the Lady Chapel at the back of the cathedral, which remains untouched (at least as of now) by the restoration project. We knelt down in prayer, as other visitors did the same — the old lady with the scarf tied tightly around her head, a shopping bag on her arm; the young business man in the fashionably cut suit; the tourist with backpack and camera marking his outsider status. One by one, they drifted in and out, genuflecting, kneeling, praying, making the Sign of the Cross…

Read the rest here.

A Mission Church

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014
This comes to you from Alaska! I joked at Mass last Sunday at St. Patrick’s Cathedral that I was going to a place with a milder winter climate than New York City!

The Archbishop of Anchorage, Roger Schweitz, and the Bishop of Juneau, Ed Burns – – both good friends and exemplary apostles – – had invited me a couple years ago. They had told me that annually, the bishops and priests of the three dioceses in Alaska – – there is a diocese of Fairbanks, too, and they await Pope Francis’ appointment of a new bishop – – meet during Lent for a few days of prayer, camaraderie, and conferences. I’m providing the latter.

Long have I been in admiration of the Church in Alaska. The state is almost three times the size of Texas, with three expansive dioceses, and less than seventy priests. The Catholic population is only at 10%, and two thirds of Alaska’s population itself is “un-Churched.”. The distances are unbelievable, the lack of “resources” – – parishes, chapels, schools, religious education programs, charitable outreach, priests, sisters, brothers, deacons, trained lay pastoral leaders, money – – a real challenge.

Yet, Catholics are united, proud, and active; the priests happy, zealous, and committed; vocations on a slight increase; and the people love the Church! They cherish the company of fellow Catholics, they know they must evangelize their neighbors and their culture – – suspicious as the society is about religion, and especially Catholics – – and they show grit and determination about their faith that is radiant.

Yes, Alaska is the missions. But, as I’ve mentioned before, so are we in the Archdiocese of New York. No longer can we take our faith for granted; all the “props” we used to count upon for our faith are no longer there. A presumed, superficial, “inherited” faith just doesn’t cut it anymore. Our culture is suspicious of us, if not downright antagonistic. To be a sincere Catholic entails an active, free deliberate choice to accept the gracious invitation of Jesus to know, love, and serve Him in His Church.

That’s the message of Lent…

That’s the message of Pope Francis…

That’s the message of Alaska!

A “Used-to-be” Lent

Thursday, March 20th, 2014
This time of the year, these forty days of preparation for Holy Week and Easter, I often hear folks over fifty-five or so reminisce about how Lent“used-to-be.”“Remember the tuna casseroles and grilled cheese sandwiches?”

“I used to long for Sunday when I could have a piece of the candy I had given-up for Lent.”

“Did I ever love the Stations of the Cross on Friday.”

“Remember how tough it was not to eat between meals?”

“I can still recall dad reminding us to make a good confession before Easter.”

“Mom used to love her sodality meetings, and dad his night of cards and a couple beers at the Holy Name evenings at the parish, but those were all cancelled during Lent.”

“Remember the ‘rice bowl’ to help feed the starving sitting on the kitchen table where we’d put our pennies saved from buying treats.”

“And remember how we used to so enjoy Easter, after forty days of sacrifice and penance; it was like we were entering a new life and the sun of spring with Jesus risen.”

A lot of that these days, what I call “used-to-be Lent.”

Because, I wonder if we’ve lost it . . . has Lent become a thing of the past?

Now, don’t get me wrong!  I don’t want to go back to the “under-pain-of sin” mandatory fast and abstinence of pre-1967 Catholic life – – although I sure remember Pope Paul VI, as he lifted mandatory fast and abstinence (keeping it only on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent), expressing confidence that mature Catholics would now freely embrace penance and self-denial.

Nor do I suggest that there aren’t a good number of Catholics who still take Lent very seriously with their acts of sacrifice, more fervent prayer, and added deeds of service and charity.

Yet, I am still moved to wonder if, as a Church, we have lost the wonder of Lent, that these forty holy days have gone the way of holy days of obligation, fasting before communion, and no meat on Friday.

And all our kids hear about is how Lent “used-to-be.”

So, for instance, I’m at a great parish in the archdiocese and notice that they’re having a big dance on . . . the first Friday of Lent!

So, I’m at a huge banquet for over a thousand men, mostly Catholics, where the liquor flows and the steaks are medium-rare on . . . a Friday of Lent!

So, I’m at Mass in a parish where they sing the Gloria and have alleluias all over the place on . . . a Sunday of Lent!

I admire how our Jewish neighbors take their “high holy days” in the fall so seriously, especially the days of penance, fasting, and contrition . . .

Our Islamic neighbors fast all day and deepen their prayers for a month at Ramadan . . .

And here, my Catholic people write me for a “dispensation” on one of the six measly Fridays we’re asked to abstain from meat (big sacrifice these days!), if they even bother with the dispensation at all.

Am I being too gloomy here?  You know me well enough to realize I’m hardly puritanical or a crab.  All I’m asking is:  have we lost Lent?  Is it all now nostalgia, a museum piece, in the attics of our souls, as we tell our kids and grandkids how Lent “used-to-be”?

Lent didn’t just used to be . . . it’s needed now more than ever!

Let me ask you, is there anything different at all in your life, in the rhythm of your family and home, in your parish, this Lent?

Is it too late to get it back?

During Lent, Americans Retrace Ancient Pilgrimage Routes in Rome

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014
George Weigel writes in the Wall Street Journal about a wonderful tradition in Rome…that is undertaken by Americans! (It was begun by seminarians and student-priests from the Pontifical North American College…where I used to be stationed.) As we prepare to begin Lent, I thought you’d enjoy this piece:

“On March 5, Ash Wednesday, hundreds of residents of Rome will begin a six-and-a-half-week long pilgrimage to the Roman station churches of Lent—a tradition that began in the earliest days of legalized Christianity but, until recently, had lain fallow…

The station churches themselves, especially those off the tourist track, often astonish. The apse mosaic in the Basilica of Sts. Cosmas and Damian is a startling sixth-century anticipation of 20th-century art deco. The little church of St. Praxedes, hidden behind the vast basilica of St. Mary Major atop the Esquiline Hill, contains the golden mosaic St. Zeno Chapel, one of the most beautiful rooms on the planet.

Amid the world’s continuous wayfaring, the Roman station church pilgrimage has a unique character, combining history, art, architecture and the human quest for truth. Built on the foundation of martyrs’ homes, it is a reminder that religious freedom is never cost-free. And its revival by Americans, who lead it today, is a fine act of gratitude from the New World to the Old.”

Read the rest here.

Asking St. Joseph to Help Us Prepare for a New Pope

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

It seems so providential that we would meet here in Rome for this extraordinarily significant event during Lent.

These forty days are a sacred occasion of recalling the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus – the Paschal Mystery – uniting ourselves to the death of Jesus by dying to sin, through prayer, sacrifice, and acts of charity, so that we might rise with Him to life at Easter.

Sure enough, the Church is experiencing death, as we observe the passing of a beloved Pontiff, and await the rebirth that comes with the election of a new one.

And these days of transition allow us as the Church to die to sin, corruption, scandal, and evil, even in the members of the Church – including her leaders – so that the Church can then rise to renewed life.

It also seems providential that we undergo this passing of one Pope and the rising up of a new one during March, classically devoted to St. Joseph (whose feastday is March 19th).

St. Joseph, a man of silence – and we need quiet reflection as the College of Cardinals and members of the Church;

St. Joseph, a man who dealt with emergencies – – think of his virgin wife’s “untimely,” embarrassing pregnancy; the birth of Jesus in exile, in a stable; the flight to Egypt to escape a murdering tyrant, the three-day loss of his boy – – with calmness, trust in God, and responsibility.  What an example he is as we see so many “emergencies” in the Church and the world today!

St. Joseph, ever attentive to God’s will, placing Jesus and Mary at the heart of his life, reliable in his duties to care and protect his virgin wife and adopted son; a working-man who took pride in his profession as a carpenter.

No wonder we call him the Patron of the Church Universal.  Wouldn’t it be great to have a new Pope by his feastday?

I’m going to begin a novena to him on March 11, nine days of prayer in preparation for his feastday (two days after St. Patrick’s Day), asking him and his virgin-wife to look after the Church, and get us an inspired new Successor of St. Peter.  Will you join me?

Lenten Reflections

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

Check out the first of my series of video reflections that I will be sharing periodically during this holy season of Lent.

Click here to watch the video.

Prayer, Penance, and Charity

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

Due to technical difficulties, comments are temporarily disabled.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday.

The family of the Church begins Lent, the season of spiritual preparation for the high holy days of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The tried-and-true way of observing a “good Lent” is threefold:  prayer, penance, and charity.

Tomorrow we will be marked men.  We’ll be signed on the forehead with blessed ashes.  We’ll hear the somber whisper, “Remember, you are dust, and unto dust you will return.”  We’ll pass up the bacon, the hot dog cart at lunch, the beef at supper, as we fast.

We are marked as sinners; we are branded as dying.

This Lent will be special as we, the Catholic family, go through the sadness of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, the starkness of the period awaiting the next Holy Father, and the exhilaration of a new Pontiff.

Pope Benedict XVI has been a splendid professor.

He has taught us a lot about Lent.

In every talk he encourages us to converse with Jesus as our best friend.  That’s prayer.

In his own life, especially as Pope, he has sacrificed his own comfort and convenience to serve Jesus and His Church.  That’s penance.

He has constantly urged us to love and serve the poor, hungry, oppressed, and forgotten.  That’s charity.

And now, he lets us know that, he, too, is a marked man, closer to death, slowed down and frail, more and more in need of God’s grace and mercy, humbly admitting his mortality, his own sinfulness, eager to prepare to be united with His Lord and Savior in His dying and rising.

Behold two great signs for us: the ashes of Lent, the example of Pope Benedict.

A blessed Forty Days!

Lent Offerings

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

In my last blog post, I referred to Francis Cardinal George’s excellent column from Catholic New World entitled What are you going to give up this Lent?  I found this column to be especially interesting. I thought I would highlight it for you by reprinting it in its entirety.

Catholic New World

The Cardinal’s Column

Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

February 26, 2012

What are you going to give up this Lent?

The Lenten rules about fasting from food and abstaining from meat have been considerably reduced in the last forty years, but reminders of them remain in the fast days on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and in the abstinence from meat on all the Fridays of Lent. Beyond these common sacrifices that unite us spiritually to the passion of Christ, Catholics were and are encouraged to “give up” something voluntarily for the sake of others. Often this is money that could have been used for personal purposes and instead is given to help others, especially the poor.

This year, the Catholic Church in the United States is being told she must “give up” her health care institutions, her universities and many of her social service organizations. This is not a voluntary sacrifice. It is the consequence of the already much discussed Department of Health and Human Services regulations now filed and promulgated for implementation beginning Aug. 1 of this year.

Why does a governmental administrative decision now mean the end of institutions that have been built up over several generations from small donations, often from immigrants, and through the services of religious women and men and others who wanted to be part of the church’s mission in healing and education? Catholic hospitals, universities and social services have an institutional conscience, a conscience shaped by Catholic moral and social teaching. The HHS regulations now before our society will make it impossible for Catholic institutions to follow their conscience.

So far in American history, our government has respected the freedom of individual conscience and of institutional integrity for all the many religious groups that shape our society. The government has not compelled them to perform or pay for what their faith tells them is immoral. That’s what we’ve meant by freedom of religion. That’s what we had believed was protected by the U.S. Constitution. Maybe we were foolish to believe so.

What will happen if the HHS regulations are not rescinded? A Catholic institution, so far as I can see right now, will have one of four choices: 1) secularize itself, breaking its connection to the church, her moral and social teachings and the oversight of its ministry by the local bishop. This is a form of theft. It means the church will not be permitted to have an institutional voice in public life. 2) Pay exorbitant annual fines to avoid paying for insurance policies that cover abortifacient drugs, artificial contraception and sterilization. This is not economically sustainable. 3) Sell the institution to a non-Catholic group or to a local government. 4) Close down.

In the public discussion thus far, efforts have been made to isolate the bishops from the Catholic faithful by focusing attention exclusively on “reproductive” issues. But the acrimony could as easily focus next year or the year after on assisted suicide or any other moral issue that can be used to distract attention from the attack on religious liberty. Many will recognize in these moves a tactic now familiar in our public life: those who cannot be co-opted are isolated and then destroyed. The arguments used are both practical and theoretical.

Practically, we’re told that the majority of Catholics use artificial contraception. There are properly medical reasons, in some circumstances, for the use of contraceptive pills, as everyone knows. But even if contraceptives were used by a majority of couples only and exclusively to suppress a possible pregnancy, behavior doesn’t determine morality. If it can be shown that a majority of Catholic students cheat on their exams, it is still wrong to cheat on exams. Trimming morality to how we behave guts the Gospel call to conversion of life and rejection of sin.

Theoretically, it is argued that there are Catholic voices that disagree with the teaching of the church and therefore with the bishops. There have always been those whose personal faith is not adequate to the faith of the church. Perhaps this is the time for everyone to re-read the Acts of the Apostles. Bishops are the successors of the apostles; they collectively receive the authority to teach and govern that Christ bestowed upon the apostles. Bishops don’t claim to speak for every baptized Catholic. Bishops speak, rather, for the Catholic and apostolic faith. Those who hold that faith gather with them; others go their own way. They are and should be free to do so, but they deceive themselves and others in calling their organizations Catholic.

Since 1915, the Catholic bishops of the United States have taught that basic health care should be accessible to all in a just society. Two years ago, we asked that whatever instruments were crafted to care for all, the Hyde and Weldon and Church amendments restricting funding for abortion and respecting institutional conscience continue to be incorporated into law. They were excluded. As well, the present health care reform act doesn’t cover entire sections of the U.S. population. It is not universal.

The provision of health care should not demand “giving up” religious liberty. Liberty of religion is more than freedom of worship. Freedom of worship was guaranteed in the Constitution of the former Soviet Union. You could go to church, if you could find one. The church, however, could do nothing except conduct religious rites in places of worship-no schools, religious publications, health care institutions, organized charity, ministry for justice and the works of mercy that flow naturally from a living faith. All of these were co-opted by the government. We fought a long cold war to defeat that vision of society.

The strangest accusation in this manipulated public discussion has the bishops not respecting the separation between church and state. The bishops would love to have the separation between church and state we thought we enjoyed just a few months ago, when we were free to run Catholic institutions in conformity with the demands of the Catholic faith, when the government couldn’t tell us which of our ministries are Catholic and which not, when the law protected rather than crushed conscience. The state is making itself into a church. The bishops didn’t begin this dismaying conflict nor choose its timing. We would love to have it ended as quickly as possible. It’s up to the government to stop the attack.

If you haven’t already purchased the Archdiocesan Directory for 2012, I would suggest you get one as a souvenir. On page L-3, there is a complete list of Catholic hospitals and health care institutions in Cook and Lake counties. Each entry represents much sacrifice on the part of medical personnel, administrators and religious sponsors. Each name signifies the love of Christ to people of all classes and races and religions. Two Lents from now, unless something changes, that page will be blank.

The observance of Lent reminds us that, in the end, we all stand before Christ and give an accounting of our lives. From that perspective, I ask lay Catholics and others of good will to step back and understand what is happening to our country as the church is despoiled of her institutions and as freedom of conscience and of religion become a memory from a happier past. The suffering being imposed on the church and on society now is not a voluntary penance. We should both work and pray to be delivered from it.

 

Love, Prayers, and Best Wishes from Rome

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Well, I did it again…

It’s usually one of the very first things I do on my first full day back in Rome…

Early in the morning, I walk down the Janiculum  Hill – where I stay at the North American College – to Saint Peter’s Basilica, there to go to confession and then to celebrate Mass.

Two powerful sacraments, Eucharist and Reconciliation, constants of our spiritual life, at the heart of the church, near the tomb of Saint Peter.

I don’t want you to think that I only approach confession when I’m in Rome!

At home with you in New York I try to go every two weeks, because I need it.

But it does have a special urgency and meaning here in Rome.

Near the tomb of Saint Peter, I can hear Jesus ask Him three times: “Simon, do you love me?” and then examine my conscience to see how I have failed to love the Lord and take care of his sheep.

Near his tomb, I picture myself, like Saint Peter, doubting Jesus and sinking in the waters of the storm.

Adjacent to his burial place, I even admit that, like Peter, I have, in my thoughts, words, and actions, denied Jesus.

So my contrition is strong, my purpose of amendment firm, and I approach one of the Franciscans for confession in the corner of the massive basilica.

Then I say my penance before the tomb of Peter, under the high altar, and go to vest for the greatest prayer of all, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

And then I go for pasta….

Lent begins next Wednesday.  I’ll be back to start it with you.

Sometime over those forty days leading up to Easter, take a cue from your archbishop: get back to confession!

 My love, prayers, and best wishes from Rome.

An Evening of Recollection

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

It took a Jewish woman to remind me of the irreplaceable significance of prayer and penance in the life of a believer.

This is my third autumn with you here in New York, and each year I have been inspired by how seriously our Jewish neighbors take their high holy days.

On the evening after Rosh Hashanah, the New Year in the Hebrew calendar, I had the pleasure of an enjoyable evening out at an Italian restaurant.  (“Where is the penance in that?”  I can hear you ask!)

Around the table were Catholics, a Greek Orthodox gentleman, and a delightful Jewish woman at my side.

At my urging, she described to me the way she and her family observed the holy days upon them.  She was especially eloquent about the rigor and meaning of the then approaching Yom Kippur, the revered Day of Atonement.

On Rosh Hashanah, she explained, her people entered a period of reflection, examination of the just concluded year, and made some resolutions about the year ahead.

Then, with sundown on Yom Kippur, she and her family began an intense 24 hour period of prayer and fasting from all food and even water.

She went on to share with me what this was all about.  Part of it, she pointed out, was repentance for past sin through prayer and mortification.

Secondly, she went on, was a sense of solidarity with the suffering and hungry of the world whose hunger — unlike her own — was hardly voluntary, but part of a daily survival.

Finally, she concluded, was a sense of bodily hunger, thirst, and emptiness, which was but a mirror of the interior hunger and thirst we all have, an emptiness only God can fill, as the Hebrew psalmist so eloquently sang.

She then asked me, “Do you Catholics have such an experience?”

Sure, I was able to reply.  Every Friday is supposed to be a day of penance for us.  (But is it?  I thought to myself.)

Lent, I went on, was a forty day experience of what she described, with special penance on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and the other Fridays of that season.  (But is it?  I wondered to myself.)

Then I reminisced about the Ember Days, fasting before Holy Communion, and penitential vigils of holy days that we used to have.

I mentioned to her that Jesus, steeped in faithful Jewish tradition, told us that reflection, prayer, and penance were essentials in following Him.

As we left, I thanked her for what I described as an “evening of recollection,” listening to her elaborate on her Jewish faith.

“But I worry,” she concluded, “because I fear we Jews might be losing our tradition of sacred times of reflection, prayer, and penance.”

“You’re not alone,” I assured her.  “I fear we Catholics are, too.”