Ash Wednesday Musings

Ash Wednesday Musings

Growing up Catholic and attending Catholic school, Ash Wednesday always felt like a somber day of remembering one’s bodily mortality, e.g. “Remember man that thou art dust, and unto dust you shall return,” and deciding which decadent treats (chocolate, soda, cake, etc.) you were willing to give up. For better or worse, the day became synonymous with dieting for many people, as the concept of self-denial centered around food and beverages. Some argued that you could have Sundays “off” while others insisted you must stick to it for the full 40 days.

Why the discrepancy?

According to Catholicism.About.com:

Lent, the period of prayer and fasting in preparation for Easter, is 40 days long, but there are 46 days between Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, and Easter. So how are the 40 days of Lent calculated?

A Little History

The answer takes us back to the earliest days of the Church. Christ’s original disciples, who were Jewish, grew up with the idea that the Sabbath—the day of worship and of rest—was Saturday, the seventh day of the week since the account of creation in Genesis says that God rested on the seventh day.

Christ rose from the dead, however, on Sunday, the first day of the week, and the early Christians, starting with the apostles (those original disciples), saw Christ’s Resurrection as a new creation, and so they transferred the day of rest and worship from Saturday to Sunday.

Sunday: The Celebration of the Resurrection

Since all Sundays—and not simply Easter Sunday—were days to celebrate Christ’s Resurrection, Christians were forbidden to fast and do other forms of penance on those days.

Therefore, when the Church expanded the period of fasting and prayer in preparation for Easter from a few days to 40 days (to mirror Christ’s fasting in the desert, before He began His public ministry), Sundays could not be included in the count.

Thus, in order for Lent to include 40 days on which fasting could occur, it had to be expanded to six full weeks (with six days of fasting in each week) plus four extra days—Ash Wednesday and the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday that follow it. Six times six is thirty-six, plus four equals forty. And that’s how we arrive at the 40 days of Lent!

While I’m supportive of anyone using this time to deprive themselves of sweets (and lose weight in the process), I also love this idea from Aleteia.com:

During Lent we want to de-emphasize ourselves and emphasize our dependence on God. Almsgiving (materially sharing with those in need) is one of the three “pillars” of Lent. (The other two pillars are prayer and fasting.) We can give in ways other than money. In giving up things around our house that we don’t need, we can detach from “stuff” while helping others.

Here’s the challenge: During the 40 days of Lent, find one thing each day you no longer need. For most of us, this should be really easy. It could be a kitchen item, a jacket, a bike, an unopened gift hanging around. Go through your closets, drawers, basement, even the garage.

Click here to read the full post.

For me, it’s also about releasing old beliefs and thought patterns while embracing the knowledge that we are all children of God. With that in mind, here are some suggestions. During Lent 2017, let’s fully let go of:

  • Self-Doubt
  • Worry
  • Fear
  • Laziness
  • Impatience
  • Jealousy
  • Selfishness
  • Distrust
  • Comparing Ourselves to Others

Instead, embrace our individuality as creations of God. Celebrate the unique gifts He has given to each of us. Vow to use them in service to your family, friends, neighbors, community, country, workplace and/or business. Stop the comparison/jealousy game and recognize that we are all here for our own purpose. It has been said that “comparison is the thief of joy.” I fully agree.

No matter how you honor the season of Lent, remember to express gratitude for all that you are and all that you have. Focus on your blessings, not your problems. By doing so, you just may find that God will guide you through every obstacle.

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Good Friday Meditation

goodfriday1

From The Word Among Us:

Into your hands I commend my spirit. (Psalm 31:6)

It’s Good Friday, the very day for which Jesus was born into the world. His whole life, everything he ever said or did, had been leading up to this day. Every miracle, every sermon, every word of forgiveness or challenge—none of them makes sense apart from the cross. And today, we are invited to join millions of people all over the world in gazing upon the Lamb who was slain for our sin.

So let’s follow Pilate’s words and “behold the man” (John 19:5). Come and behold the Christ in his humanity. Recall his humble beginnings as a newborn in a manger. Wonder at his hidden years as he grew in stature and grace.

Come and behold the One on whom the Holy Spirit rested as a dove. See him in his humility, trust, and surrender to his Father as he walked with God each and every day. Behold the One who prayed, “Into your hands I commend my spirit” (Psalm 31:6). See how this prayer, which he breathed with his dying breath, was but the full expression of a lifetime of yielding to his Father.

Come and behold the One who said, “I thirst” (John 19:28). Gaze upon the One who experienced hunger, thirst, and pain, both physically and spiritually. He came not to be served but to serve. He washed his friends’ feet. He dined with sinners and touched lepers. He poured out his life day after day for his people. And now here he is, crucified, betrayed, and abandoned. He is nailed to a cross, and he is still pouring out his life.

“Behold, your king!” (John 19:14). Before his pierced and bloodstained feet, we bow our knees, anticipating the day when every person will kneel before him. Look upon this ravaged rabbi, and see here your eternal King, the One through whom all things were created. See your high priest seated in heaven, even now constantly interceding for you, just as he did on the cross.

Behold Jesus. The sky blackens. The earth shakes. The rocks rend. His body lies still for now. His majesty is emptied but for a season. Here is your King.

“Jesus, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Isaiah 52:13–53:12; Psalm 31:2, 6, 12-13, 15-17, 25; Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9

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Lenten Meditation: The Father’s Generosity

ProdigalSonFrom The Word Among Us:

Everything I have is yours. (Luke 15:31)

The party was in full swing. The sounds of music and dancing and animated celebration were unmistakable—and incomprehensible—to the young man. “You mean my brother squandered a hefty portion of the family estate,” he splutters, “and we celebrate?” Bitterness radiates from him as surely as the sound of joyful merrymaking carries from the feast. “My brother had all that wicked fun, and then he’s treated like a hero for returning? I’ve served my father so faithfully,” he fumes, “yet he’s never given me so much as a small goat to feast on with my friends.”

The older son’s problem is that he never asked. His father even assured him, “Everything I have is yours.” Everything! The older son didn’t consider his father to be so extravagantly generous; he didn’t expect impressive expressions of his father’s love. He was so caught up in duty, service, and obedience that he missed the most important thing: love, displayed extravagantly and without hesitation.

This is the kind of love that God the Father showers on us every day. We have only to receive it from him. It’s the kind of love that created the heavens and the earth, the kind of love that set us as rulers over creation. It’s the kind of love that sacrificed his only Son for our sake and still forgives, and forgives, and forgives again. Generous. Overflowing. Extravagant. The kind of love that boldly declares, “Everything I have is yours.” That’s how much your heavenly Father loves you!

This week, ask your Father for that “goat” for a feast with your friends. Ask him for something you’d like but don’t necessarily need. Set aside all thought of what you deserve, all insecurity, all fear of punishment. Your Father loves you. He delights in you and wants to declare his love for you unmistakably and extravagantly. When the older son complained that he had never had a feast, his father opened his arms and his heart, declaring, “It’s all yours.” This is who our God is. This is how he loves us. Be confident in that love. Ask.

“Father, I don’t always think your extravagant love is for me. Help me to grow in confidence and assurance that when I ask, you will answer generously.”

Micah 7:14-15, 18-20; Psalm 103:1-4, 9-12

I was glad to see this particular bible story highlighted today, as I often sympathized with the “good” brother — the one who diligently did his duty and remained with his father. Ironically, in real life I feel more like the prodigal son, (minus the amoral lifestyle), who took a different path — much to the surprise of others. Of course, I’ve always had the full support of my parents and other family members, while others — to put it politely — questioned my decisions.

For anyone who writes professionally, especially if you’re a freelancer, it can be challenging to deal with the disapproval of other people, who are focused on more “traditional” lines of work, even in an age when technology and social media have facilitated the marketing of one’s skills and created the ability to literally work from anywhere. When I read the story of the prodigal son, I can relate to all of the characters — the father who loves his sons unconditionally, the “traditional” son and the one who squandered his fortune in order to discover his real treasure had been right in front of him all along.

It also makes me very grateful for the wonderful parents I’ve been blessed to have. The fact that they are still in my life and doing so well fills me with incredible thankfulness. As for God’s generosity, He always seems to place the right people and opportunities in my path exactly when I need them. Very grateful for that!

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Lenten Meditation: The Mark of a Disciple

LentFrom today’s Word Among Us:

The mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus … wishing to ask him for something. (Matthew 20:20)

What bad timing! Jesus had just told his disciples about his coming passion, death, and resurrection. It must have been an emotionally charged moment, but that didn’t keep James and John’s mother from asking for a favor for her sons! Even the two brothers seemed oblivious as they eagerly offered to drink from Jesus’ cup, unaware of what that “cup” entailed! To make matters worse, the other disciples grumbled against them for trying to get special treatment.

But as awkward as it must have been, this woman’s timing was also providential. It gave Jesus the opportunity to teach the Twelve—again—that grasping for power is not a mark of a disciple. Greatness in God’s kingdom consists in self-giving, not in self-aggrandizement.

This is a lesson that everyone needs to hear over and over again, and Jesus had no problem repeating it. Like many of his teachings, Jesus knew that it wasn’t enough simply to state it once and then move on.

Why do we need so much repetition? It’s not that we are hard of hearing. It’s not that we are slow of mind. It’s that many of our fallen, sinful philosophies and expectations are so deeply held that nothing but continual reminders will dislodge them.

Jesus’ gospel is not just a minor variation on the ways of the world. It’s a whole new message. Rather than teaching revenge, he tells us to turn the other cheek. Rather than looking out for ourselves first, he asks us to give top priority to the poor and needy and defenseless. Rather than focus on our careers and comfort, he wants us to fix our eyes on heaven and on building his Church.

The good news is that we don’t have to figure this out all by ourselves. Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit to write his words on our hearts. Yes, we need to learn all that Jesus taught. But we also need the Spirit to bring these truths to life for us. He alone has the power to transform our thinking so that we can become more like Jesus!

“Lord, help me to train my mind so that I can experience your transforming power!”

Jeremiah 18:18-20; Psalm 31:5-6, 14-16

So, this one has always posed a bit of a challenge for me. There’s a seeming contradiction in the exhortation to give top priority to the poor, needy and defenseless at the expense of “looking out for ourselves first”. After all, you cannot give something away that you yourself do not have. A great metaphor for this is airline safety: haven’t we all been through the routine prior to take-off when we’re advised in the case of an emergency to secure our own oxygen first, then help the ones around us?

Growing up as a Catholic schoolgirl, it always confounded me how so many of the nuns and priests would condemn success and “rich” people, yet clamor for members of the congregation to donate weekly to the offertory and throughout the year to various drives for the missions, the poor, etc. Well how could congregants donate money if they themselves were not making it through their successful professions and business ventures? Even at a very young age I struggled with this contradiction, compounded by the fact that I was often singled out as a “rich doctor’s daughter”.

Knowing my father to be an honorable, humble and hard-working man who as the son of Italian immigrants had to work his way through high school, college and medical school — happily, I might add as he was grateful for the opportunity — I could never reconcile the fact that Jesus would condemn my dad and others like him as nothing but greedy, self-centered human beings unworthy of heaven. Weren’t they doing the Lord’s work in a way by caring for the sick and providing for their families?

And while I believe it’s important for children who come from good homes to understand how blessed they are to have loving families and live in the USA, it also confounded me that while telling us stories about the poor in Africa, for example, nuns and priests would never condemn the despotic regimes that enslaved their own people. Instead, they’d blame the USA — a country that has been a beacon of freedom and hope for countless millions across the globe. It’s also a country that has sacrificed much blood and treasure to free others from tyranny and oppression.

When I read today’s meditation, these are the things that came to mind. I am truly not trying to pick a fight here; merely offering my two-cents’ as someone who believes in God’s purpose for each and every life. When someone like my dad achieves their God-given desires, certainly it is incumbent upon them to be generous — as my parents have always been. But in order to share with others, it is necessary to first focus on your own success, so that you might actually have something of value to give away. Otherwise, you’re just another person drowning, instead of the person with the life-line who has the ability to pull the drowning person to safety. And what of teaching a man to fish? Is it not the best demonstration of charity to help someone else learn to fend for themselves and their families?

What are your thoughts? Am I misinterpreting? Do you agree? Disagree? Let’s discuss.

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