Lent is a Time for Learning

The division that Christ brought into the Jewish community of his time is sometimes startling, especially because Jesus’ teachings exhort us to be peacemakers, meek and humble of heart. The strife Jesus caused reminds us that Christianity, while it brings a kind of unity which goes beyond the natural, can also cause great division. 

The build up to the arrest of Jesus has been taking place in the daily Mass readings the past few days. In the Gospels, the tension is rising as we see some of the Jewish leaders taking umbrage at the things that Jesus said and did. In today’s Gospel reading, they argue amongst themselves concerning Jesus. They have trouble reconciling cultural Judaism with His hard sayings and His radical claims. If the religious leaders in this story had a true understanding of the Old Testament and what to look for in the Messiah, they would not have argued about who Jesus was.

Modern day Catholics sometimes experience this same kind of division because we disagree about who Christ is and what he teaches. The fact that we live in a society that is often at odds with our beliefs makes us even more conflicted and confused. 

Recently, I was helping to prepare a 2nd grade class for First Reconciliation. One girl was amazed to learn that what society calls right and wrong does not always match up with God’s definition of right and wrong. There are many adult Catholics who are also unaware of the discrepancy. There is, for example, a general consensus  that cheating another person in business is wrong, but how many people still believe that “marriage” between couples of the same sex is wrong? Those who want to preserve the traditional meaning of marriage are now persecuted, but Catholics can easily fall into the trap of believing the way the world around them believes as well.

So how can we know the teachings of Christ, that we might know what is truly right and wrong and stop arguing amongst ourselves? The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a good tool to learn what the Church has taught since the time of Christ. 

If we are unsure what our Church teaches and why, we should try to find out. There are plenty of good resources to help us, and Lent is the perfect time to learn more about our faith in order to stand as a unified Church living in Christ’s love. 

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Christine Hanus is a thwarted idealist who, nevertheless, lives quite happily in Upstate NY. She is a wife and mother of five grown children.

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Jesus, I trust in you!

I have always found it challenging to “stay positive” while simultaneously acknowledging the harsh realities of life. I want to be a person of hope and joy, but I also realize that I can’t help make the world a better place unless I open my eyes to its troubles. Today’s First Reading provides a beautiful meditation, not only about the hope we have for the future, but about God’s awareness of our plight here and now. 

I remember one circumstance in particular in which I was overwhelmed by the potential for evil in this world and was tempted to despair. My husband and I were traveling across the country with our five children, all under the age of 10. It was late at night, and we stopped in a rest area that looked dark and dangerous. My husband took the four oldest into the restroom, and I climbed into the debris-strewn back seat with the baby. Tired and vulnerable, and possessing an overactive imagination, I started worrying about the safety of my children and the horrible things that can happen to children. I succumbed quickly to these dark thoughts and found myself crying in frustration and anger. Though I have had a close, trusting relationship with the Lord since I was a child, I have often struggled to accept the suffering of the innocent. Why Lord? Don’t you care? Why must these evils go on and on?

As I continued to cry out to God in my heart, I shifted my feet which were resting awkwardly on a number of children’s toys and blankets on the floor of the car. My movements triggered something, and a muffled tinkling tune penetrated the dark silence, “Jesus loves the little children…all the children of the world…” 

I paused and let that reality sink into my consciousness. My prayers reached the only conclusion that brings any peace…Jesus, I trust in you!

Today’s First Reading reminds us that God knows what we are suffering. He knows that things are far from perfect. By taking on a human form, Jesus Christ entered into the mess with us in order to experience, confront, and redeem the mess. Furthermore, this is not the end. This is not “all there is.” In a little while, He will make things right and all that we yearn for and hope for will come to pass in the new heavens and the new earth. In the meantime, we live on in Christ, who forewarned us that we would have many trials in this world, but to be courageous, because he has overcome the world. (See Jn 16:33)

Our deepest instincts tell us there is an Author of life and He is all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful. But we do not have the mind of God and we cannot fully understand His ways.  The more we unite ourselves to Him, the more we will trust in His ability to bring good out of evil. We will also find abiding joy, knowing that it won’t be long before the One who sits on the throne will makes all things new. (See Rev 21:5)

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Christine Hanus is a thwarted idealist who, nevertheless, lives quite happily in Upstate NY. She is a wife and mother of five grown children.

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The Power of God’s Word

The First Reading today always makes me think of the power of Sacred Scripture. Words which, though penned by various writers in various times and circumstances, are ultimately authored by God Himself! 

Ever since I was in high school, the Scriptures have captured my imagination. That was thirty-five years ago when it wasn’t common to see Catholics read and study the Bible on their own initiative. Thankfully, today there are many Catholics who know that the Bible is a Catholic book—compiled and disseminated by the Catholic Church and preserved and interpreted for over 2,000 by the same Catholic Church!

If we are interested in knowing God and want to hear his voice, the Scripture is like Aladdin’s cave.  A veritable treasure trove of truth, wisdom, and knowledge.

As I have traveled the course of my life, reading Scripture and trying to understand it with the mind of the Church, I have learned to depend on God’s Word more and more. One of the ways Scripture has gained practical application in my life is in spiritual battle. As Christians, we know we are in a spiritual battle at all times. We are constantly being tempted to selfishness, pride, despair, and various other sins. When we use the Word of God to fight our own human weakness and to come against the evil forces who tempt us, we tap into a unique and awesome power. As God Himself says in today’s reading, “[My word] shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”

When we are feeling vulnerable, there is supernatural power that comes from declaring, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31) If we are tempted to doubt God’s providence, there is supernatural change that we can experience by reminding ourselves to, “Rejoice in the Lord, always. I shall say it again: rejoice!…The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all…” (Phil 4:4-6). And when our children are bombarded by the godless ideology of our day, we can teach them to memorize “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” (James 4:7-8). As the next generation begins to engage in the spiritual battle, we must equip them with supernatural weapons.

Recently, as my petite, faith-filled mother-in-law was dying from cancer, I knew that she was tempted to fear. I posted a verse of Scripture from the book of Daniel where she could read it every day. Even when she was unable to see it or to speak, I would periodically recite it to her. “Do not fear, greatly beloved, you are safe. Be strong and courageous.” God’s words. Words to help us die. Words to help us live!

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Christine Hanus is a thwarted idealist who, nevertheless, lives quite happily in Upstate NY. She is a wife and mother of five grown children.

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Jesus, Our Teacher

Today’s Responsorial Psalm is taken from Psalm 119 which repeatedly mentions the commands of God, the statutes of God, the Word of God. So often we want to have God in our lives, but we aren’t too fond of his teachings, or at least not all of them. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus and his apostles are utterly exhausted, unable to even find the time to eat, but when Jesus observes the crowd that has gathered to see him, “…his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”

Sometimes Jesus healed bodies, but he always wanted to heal souls. One of the primary ways he did this healing work was to teach and to preach. To explain to his friends and to the crowds how the commandments were to be lived out in their everyday lives. Jesus knew that if the people of his time could only understand that God’s laws were designed to help them to thrive, they could find the healing they craved and avoid destructive pitfalls. The same pitfalls we modern day folk create for ourselves by doing things our way instead of God’s way. 

And good, kind Jesus didn’t pull any punches. He set the bar high, exhorting his listeners to forgive enemies, to honor God’s purpose and plan for marriage and sexuality, to serve the poor and the needy. Sometimes they were even asked to leave everything behind and literally follow him. Knowing their weakness, he promised to send them the Holy Spirit so that they could do what he commanded them to do! (Aka without the Holy Spirit, it is impossible!) 

From the time my four sons were very young, I had them learn and recite the first line of the Responsorial Psalm from today’s Mass readings, (RSVRC translation), “How can a young man keep his way pure, by guarding it according to your word.” I wanted my sons to internalize the concept that fidelity to the teachings of Christ brings a purity of heart and mind that empowers them to avoid selfishness, lust, and greed. A freedom that fosters health in mind, body, and spirit. I wanted them to recognize what is good when they see it and to have the desire to be good themselves. 

Jesus Christ, the very Word of God made flesh, is moved with pity for us and wants to teach us how to live out his commandments. When we follow his commandments—when we follow him and do whatever he tells us to do—we live in Him and He in us.

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Christine Hanus is a thwarted idealist who, nevertheless, lives quite happily in Upstate NY. She is a wife and mother of five grown children.

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God is God

The Responsorial Psalm at Mass today reminds us that “a sacrifice of praise” is integral to the worship of God. 

In Psalm 116, the speaker is praising God particularly because God has listened to his prayers and saved him when he was in great need and distress. How often do  we remember the fate that would await us if it wasn’t for the salvific act of Christ on the Cross? And do we give praise to God for our deliverance? How often do we take a moment to praise God for our health, for our loved ones? Even the little blessings we experience, like a hug from a friend or a warm bed, are occasions to praise God.

But beyond what God has done for us, he deserves our prayer simply because he is God! The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “Praise is the form of prayer which recognizes most immediately that God is God.” (2639) Though the psalmist in today’s readings has gone through hard times, he does not rail against God. He realizes that God is God, and he deserves worship; a “sacrifice of praise.”

The little vexations in our daily lives can be useful when it comes to developing an attitude of praise to God, especially when things don’t go our way.

This morning, after coming in from the frosty January chill, I made homemade hot chocolate. After whipping the ingredients into a frenzy, I popped a mug of the mixture into the microwave to heat it and to create a nice, thick topping of foam. Distracted for a moment, I turned back to the microwave to see that my cup runneth over! Hot chocolate foam was boiling all over the inside of my microwave. 

Moments of frustration like this one can train us to become people of praise! When things go awry, we can curse, we can complain, or we can say, “Praise God!” 

When my cocoa was ruined, praising God was not my first impulse! I was ticked off. I felt betrayed. I was hungry and cold, and-it-was-such-a-gloomy-day-and-I-just-went-to-Mass; aren’t I virtuous; don’t I deserve a reward!? But in situations like this, when we choose to speak out the simple words, “Praise you Lord!” with as much sincerity as we can muster, our attitude changes. We remember that, actually, we don’t “deserve,” and that we are called to love and serve God whether things go our way or not.

When we practice praising God during these seemingly insignificant moments of frustration, this kind of spiritual exercise eventually translates into life-long faithfulness and a docility to the will of God. In other words, it makes us like Christ, who, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.” (Philippians 2:6)

The Catechism says that we owe God honor and glory “simply because HE IS,” (emphasis added by author) not because he has behaved in a way that we think God should. No matter what happens in our day, or in our life, God is God and he deserves our praise.

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Christine Hanus is a thwarted idealist who, nevertheless, lives quite happily in Upstate NY. She is a wife and mother of five grown children.

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Stay on Target

In the first Star Wars movie made, “A New Hope,” the rebel forces (the good guys) are trying to destroy the formidable Death Star. On a mission to fire a shot into its only significant vulnerable point, one of the fighter jets barrels down a dangerous trench on the surface of the Death Star—enemies following closely on his tail. Suddenly, the flyer of the fighter jet starts to panic.  His fellow pilot exhorts his comrade in a steady, firm tone to, “Stay on target!” The first pilot continues to waver, and again, his companion urges him, “Stay on target!” (Spoiler alert…they are ultimately victorious.)

Today’s gospel reading reminds me of this scene from Star Wars. It is Jesus himself who reminds us to “stay on target.”

When the world seems to be going haywire, we, like the people in today’s Gospel reading, start to ask Jesus, “When, Lord, can we expect things to be put right? How much longer can this go on?” We are assaulted on every side: sex trafficking, gender ideology, terrorism, and even the buying and selling of aborted baby parts. “How long” indeed! There are no clear answers from our Lord to this question, but he remains faithful and so should we.

We do know that “the day of the Lord” will come unexpectedly, like the flood came in Noah’s time. Jesus warns his disciples, and he warns us, that we must not become distracted. “Do not go off, do not run in pursuit” of some sort of false messiah or sensational “answer to all our problems”.

We need to focus on the basics…that never changes. We are called by Christ to be steady, to continue as his faith followers, growing in virtue, keeping his commandments, abounding in charity. In the fight against the most formidable enemy we will ever have, we must “stay on target.” As it says in the Book of Proverbs 4:25-27, “Let your eyes look straight ahead and your gaze be focused forward. Turn neither to right nor to left…” Herein lies our victory!

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Christine Hanus is a thwarted idealist who, nevertheless, lives quite happily in Upstate NY. She is a wife and mother of five grown children.

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Looking Down On Others

It is hard not to “look down on” other people when they disagree with us. This is especially true when our opinions are well supported by facts and expert opinions. Those who hold different viewpoints than we do can seem ignorant at best and at worst…dangerous. Today’s First Reading reminds us that this temptation to judge others affected the earliest Christian communities as well. 

This reading makes even more sense when Chapter 14 of the book of Romans is read in its entirety. It should help all of us realize that, when it comes to opinions, even regarding the best way to draw close to God, we need to refrain from judging others. If the people we are tempted to look down on are motivated by true love of God and neighbor, this will go a long way in making their actions fruitful, even though it may not be the “ideal.” 

In our parish communities for example, while we may fume over this or that issue, God is looking at the heart and writing straight with crooked lines. And while there will be situations in which there is a “right” and “wrong” way to do things, St. Paul’s words guide us as we seek to improve.

In my own experience, I have been a part of many diverse communities within the church and each one tends to judge the other. As a homeschooling mom, I have felt misunderstood by non-homeschooling Catholics, but when I was heavily involved in Catholic schools, I sometimes felt discredited by the homeschool community. In the past, my husband and I have reverently led music (with the guitar) at Mass and were told by several individuals that our “contemporary” music was not appreciated. On the other hand, I was recently disgusted when one of our greeters at church was making small talk with other parishioners about how “out of touch” the traditional Latin Mass was. I, myself, have harshly judged individuals in each of those camps for one reason or another. Aye Yai Yai! 

Our society at large no longer seems to value calm, respectful dialogue. Our churches and our families should be havens of respite in which we are still invited to share our viewpoints freely. In our parishes, and especially in regard to the liturgy of the Mass, there are many uneducated Catholics with good hearts who need to be willing to learn more about what the Church teaches and why. There are many Catholics whose education and experience allows them to share a more well-informed perspective, and they must wait until a good opportunity arises in which to help educate others, remembering that education can sometimes make a person impatient and/or proud. 

As usual, our good God is calling all of us to stay close to Christ in humble prayer. We need to stop treating our own individual preferences as law and looking down on those who have differing opinions. Yet we need to constantly discern what the essentials of our faith practices are so we don’t lose our way.  And everything we do must be done in a true spirit of love for God and neighbor, so that we can have a clean conscience before God.

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Christine Hanus is a thwarted idealist who, nevertheless, lives quite happily in Upstate NY. She is a wife and mother of five grown children.

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Let Us Adore Him, Christ the Lord

The Gospel reading today is powerful and touching. A sinful woman, recognizing her sinfulness, ministers to Jesus by washing his feet with her tears, drying them with her hair, anointing them with fragrant ointment. In effect she is saying, “I know I am not worthy! I am so sorry! You are so good, so strong, so loving, so wise, that I can only find peace when I am bowed down before you, desperate to connect with you, but utterly aware of my unworthiness even to touch your feet. But I make bold to do it because your love compels me to be brave.”

It would be very counter-cultural to grovel like this! To acknowledge a God who is the supreme authority and the ultimate arbiter of what is right and wrong, what is true and not true. To say, “Whatever you will, I will do,” clashes with our sense of independence and self-determination. Over time, a distorted idea of “freedom” has become a kind of American religion. 

Even for those of us who acknowledge that there is a God and proclaim Christ as King, we sometimes don’t perceive how much like the Pharisee in this Gospel story we are. We might invite Christ into our home, but we are always watching him to make sure he behaves as he ought. As long as Jesus stays in his proper place, we will gladly serve him and further his Kingdom. Wait….what? 

We must constantly reassess out attitude toward God and toward Christ. One exercise we can do to remind ourselves of who we are and who Christ is, is modeled in this Gospel reading. We can literally get down on the floor and figuratively kiss the feet of Jesus. It is so healthy (and Catholic) to use the bodies that God has given us to demonstrate our love and devotion to him and our sorrow for our sins. 

How readily we can forget the reverence and the obedience that is due to Christ! We are his beloved, but we are also his servants. I thank God for the woman in this Gospel reading who reminds us WHO CHRIST IS… He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We are the sinners. His laws are perfectly just and one day, we will stand before his judgment throne.

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Christine Hanus is a thwarted idealist who, nevertheless, lives quite happily in Upstate NY. She is a wife and mother of five grown children.

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“If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” 

I have often considered this question since I first heard it many years ago. Some of the “evidence” that we are Christians might be the charitable work we do, such as helping to feed the poor. This kind of service elicits approval from others and is therefore comparatively easy to carry out. But living our Catholic faith should also challenge us significantly at times. We may even be  perceived as trouble-makers…just like Jesus was. 

Jesus is the Suffering Servant foretold by Isaiah in today’s First Reading. He was persecuted and misunderstood for what he said and did. He suffered because he was obedient to the Father, and if we want to follow Christ, we will suffer due to our obedience as well. 

The first Christians were certainly persecuted for following Christ. The early followers of Christ talked about Jesus, preached about Jesus, and performed miracles in his name. They lived differently. There was plenty of “evidence against them,” and they sometimes suffered greatly for it. All but one of the apostles, for example, died a martyr’s death.

So how do we know what God is calling us to? How radical should we be as we seek to follow Christ? What if something we say or do draws blank stares, or offends someone, or worse? 

There are several practical things we can do to discern what God is calling us to in the moment, and to find the courage to follow Christ wherever he may lead. Most importantly, we must open ourselves more fully, more continually, to the Holy Spirit and try to respond to his prompting. We must be willing to look like a fool for Christ! Also, when we feel intimidated in these situations, we can use the words of Scripture to strengthen ourselves. Today’s First Reading, for example, unites us with Christ as we pray, “The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced.”

If we come from a place of humility, love, prayer, and a strong sacramental life, God will give us the grace we need to live our faith more boldly and in a way that bears fruit. 

Certainly we are called to serve God by coming alongside others in their need, loneliness, or trouble. But we must also be willing to do that which is less socially acceptable. The Suffering Servant is our model.

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We welcome Christine Hanus as a new contributing author on our Diocesan team!

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