Friday, February 12, 2016

Genuine Fasting

Fasting entails reducing the intake of food per meal, per day whereas abstinence means avoiding, going without, for example, meat.  Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days when we limit ourselves to one full meal, and two smaller ones and do not eat meat.  Fasting, however, can be more than just limiting the amount of food we eat.  The prophet, Isaiah, describes the kind of fasting that is acceptable to the Lord, perhaps even preferred: 
releasing those bound unjustly
untying the thongs of the yoke;
setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hunger,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.
Yoke can be understood to be whatever burdens.  These suggestions demand effort, sacrifice, a giving of time, energy and self.  They mean getting involved, getting hands dirty, and making a difference in our lives and the lives of others.  What can I do today and the rest of Lent to FAST in this way?
Bro. Rene

Thursday, February 11, 2016

I Am The Immaculate Conception

Thursday of the First Week of Lent overshadows the Commemoration of Our Lady of Lourdes, but today's Gospel call to take up our cross, follow Jesus, and in the reading from Deuteronomy, the invitation to choose life, can easily be tied into Mary, the Immaculate Conception.  In view of her role as Mother of God, she was preserved from any stain of original sin:  she had no inclination to sin, and remained sinless from the moment of her conception to her assumption into heaven. Yet she knew the cross, and is regarded as the First Disciple of her Son.  And, surely,  as she gave her FIAT to the archangel Gabriel, she chose Life, the life of God himself who came to dwell in her and through her, brought life to us. She stands as a fitting model as we begin our Lenten Journey toward a deeper and closer discipleship with Jesus.  When we are tempted, or when we fall into doubt and frustration at our behavior, or question, "Why me, Lord?" when the cross weighs heavier than we'd like on our shoulders, a thought of Mary and her life, a Hail Mary, slowly prayed, can help stabilize us and keep us on our Lenten path. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Bro. Rene

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Public Ashes, Private Penance

All Catholics who can will attend Mass or a Prayer Service today and receive ashes on their foreheads for all to see during the course of the day. Ironically, Jesus advises us to do quite the opposite with our Lenten observances: "Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them;" (Mt 6:1). So, no trumpets, bells and whistles, just private prayer, almsgiving and fasting.  Our Father sees us and will reward us accordingly, Jesus reminds us.  However, leading a more serious, fuller life of prayer and good deeds will eventually become obvious and be an inspiration to others.  Let the ashes, then, be an outward sign of what is going on in our hearts and in our private lives, and help others to remember that they too are called to repent and put the Gospel into action.
Bro. Rene

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Mardi Gras

Although not recognized liturgically, Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) has become a tradition of holiday proportions, especially in New Orleans.  Carnivale is celebrated in Europe and South America with gusto almost matching the nearly weeklong New Orleans fling.  These celebrations date back to the Middle Ages and by contrast help prepare us for "the rigors" of Lent, as we used to say. 
Looking more positively at the next 40 days, we see them as an invitation to greater prayer; more frequent Mass attendance; earnest efforts at peace and reconciliation; almsgiving to help the growing number of poor in our communities; opportunities to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy; fasting and abstinence; spiritual direction and participation in the sacrament of reconciliation.
Indeed, let us feast all we want today, but the real feast will be an Easter for which we have dutifully prepared.
Bro. Rene

Monday, February 8, 2016

Transformation Vs Tweaking

Sometimes we feel as if we are "cage fighting" with our worst opponent:  ourselves!  St. Paul said it years ago and it's still true today:  "For the good that I would, I do not, but the evil which I would not, that I do"  (Rm 7:19).  In order to win this battle, we need to do two things:  transform our lives, not just simply some cosmetic tweaking, and, admitting that we can't do this alone, as past efforts have shown us, ASK our Father to do it for us.  With Ash Wednesday right around the corner, we have 40 days ahead of us for some serious work on ourselves, especially on breaking down the "pride barrier" and humbling asking him to do in us what needs to be done.
Matthew Kelly gives us a simple but powerful prayer, which, when said from the heart, can give us the blue-print for our Lent.  I don't think he'd mind if I quote it:
Loving Father,
Here I am.
I trust that you have an incredible plan for me.
Transform me.  Transform my life.
Everything is on the table.
Take what you want to take and give what you want to give.
Transform me into the person you created me to be,
so I can live the life you envision for me.
I hold nothing back;
I am 100% available.
How can I help?
Amen.    (Matthew Kelly, Rediscover Jesus, an Invitation....p. 103.)
Bro. Rene

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Willingness to Follow

Our Liturgical readings today provide us with the examples of three men who, acknowledging their sinfulness and unworthiness, left all to follow the call of God:  Isaiah, and 700 or so years later, answering the call of Jesus, Peter and Paul.  Isaiah claims to be "a man of unclean lips, living among men a people of unclean lips".... (Is 6: 3).  Peter protests: "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man." (Lk 5:8).  Paul protests, "For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God." (1 Cor 15: 9).  The amazing thing to note is that God, while hearing these excuses overcomes them, symbolically with a burning coal to cleanse Isaiah's unclean lips;  with Peter, an astonishing catch of fish; and with Paul, simply grace:  "By the grace of God I am what I am and his grace in me has not been ineffective." (1 Cor 15: 10).
God continues to call, we foolishly continue to look for, or find, or make up excuses. God is simply asking all of us to live out the gift we have received in baptism; for some, the call goes deeper:  to leave all, as Peter and his companions did, and follow Jesus directly in mission as consecrated religious or priests. If we try to resist, we will find the call more intense, more irresistible.  This is a perfect mediation for us on this Sunday before Lent to focus on what God is calling us to do, and to use the time and grace of Lent to answer the call with willing and generous hearts as did Isaiah, Peter and Paul.
Bro. Rene

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Being Stretched

St. Mark give us a picture of the very human side of ministry, one to which we can all identify from the ministry of parenting to teaching, to nurturing souls and healing bodies.  There is no end to the demands made on us and even our best intentions to go "apart and rest awhile" are thwarted:  the child who awakes with a fever in the middle of the night, the client or patient who calls at all hours for help, the phone call just as we are about to leave work. We are all to familiar with this.  Jesus and the apostles were no different.  After the apostle reported to Jesus all they had done, he thought it best for all of them to withdraw to a deserted, quiet place to recoup, for they didn't even have time to eat, so busy were they.  Hoping to sneak off in a boat, they set sail, but the people saw this and met them  in large numbers at their destination.  So much for the time apart to rest.  Jesus, moved with pity began to teach again. (cf. Mk 6:30-34).So it is so often with us:  "forced into continuing" as if there were a designed plot to keep us from needed rest or sleep.  Day after day, night after night this seems to be the case.  Yet, somehow we do it.  We are given the strength and stamina we never thought we had, and somehow find ourselves refreshed from the extra giving. God sees us in our plight and takes care of us.  When we feel we are being stretched beyond our capacity, may we remember that Jesus has "been there and done that" too, and will give us what we need to continue.
Bro. Rene