The Humility of Lent

Orthodox Christians joke that they can always identify the new converts; they are the ones looking forward to Lent! I am a Latin rite deacon but am bi-ritual and serve not only my own parish but the Omaha Byzantine Catholic Community. Thus, I have been introduced to Meatfare week and Cheesefare week which precedes Lent and during which the Eastern rite Catholic eventually excludes meat, then dairy products, and ultimately fish and eggs, too. So, it is different than our practices in the Western rite where we fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstain from meat on those days and all the other Fridays in Lent.  Of course, it is not really about these external practices as it is about the heart. I have seen people at a typical Friday night fish fry during Lent eat the largest plate of food they probably ate all week, all the time keeping the rule of abstinence, since there was no meat on their plate. This, to me, always seems to miss the point of abstinence but I do not know people’s individual lives and practices so who am I to judge?

However, I do know my own heart and here is where the Lenten rubber meets the road. Like everyone else, I keep the fasts and the calls to abstinence and add my own disciplines that help me lead a more penitential life during this season but I know that these externals are effective only if they help me bore down in my life to the real practices of Lent to which we are called.

Isaiah tells us that the place to begin is to listen to God. After standing in his presence, the light reveals my uncleanness so the prophet says, “Wash yourselves clean!” Okay, could you be a bit more specific? How do I do that? “Cease doing evil; learn to do good.” Examples please? “Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.” He could have probably added welcoming the immigrant to that list but I get the drift. What Lenten practices do I have that are designed to bring justice to those who need an advocate, someone to support their cause against oppression? I have a friend who decided one Lent to carry money on him and stop to talk with every homeless-looking person he saw, offering them a few dollars but, more importantly, he felt, a kind word. There are many people who are pretty much on their own and God’s view has always been that those who support those individuals are honoring him. So, what exactly can I do? The prophet says, “Come now, let us set things right, says the Lord.” God wants his children to set things right. What needs to be set right in my world? If I do this, the prophet declares that, although my sins are crimson red, they may become white as wool. But I must be willing, I must obey, I must work to set things right.

Jesus once referred to religious leaders who “tie up heavy burdens to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.” Everything they do is a show. His call to us during Lent is to become the greatest, namely, a servant. Learn during Lent to humble yourself. That may or may not be directly related to the Lenten practices that we choose for our own edification and growth. But it is absolutely part and parcel to the charge to set things right. Without that, what difference does the rest of what we do make?


Our guest blogger today is George Butterfield:

humiltyI am the Legal Reference Librarian at the Creighton University Law School Library and have been here since August of 2007. I also teach Legal Research to first year law students and Advanced Legal Research to second and third year law students. My wife, Deb, and I have been married since 1970. She grew up in Oklahoma City and I migrated south from southwestern Pennsylvania. God has blessed us with three children and four living grandchildren. I spent the first thirty years of our marriage as a minister so our family moved a lot. We have lived in several states, including Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, and California. We tend to enjoy wherever we happen to be at the time. I enjoy walking, reading, listening to audio books, playing with my Pekingese, Max, and seeing my grandkids grow up. I am a Catholic deacon, having been ordained by Archbishop George Lucas on May 5, 2012. My wife Deb and I are parishioners at St. Gerald in Ralston, Nebraska. [This blog has been generously shared by Creighton University Online Ministries.)


When You Need to be Forgiven

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother
will be liable to judgment…

Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar,
and there recall that your brother
has anything against you,
leave your gift there at the altar,
go first and be reconciled with your brother,
and then come and offer your gift.  (Mt 5:20-26)

In 2010, when I first decided to offer Seeking the Peace of Forgiveness retreats, the intention was to focus on my many experiences of forgiving others.  The first retreat was booked for August 2010, and I was busy preparing: asking for prayer support, reading various books – including Forgiveness: A Catholic Approach by R. Scott Hurd (Pauline Books and Media) as well as increasing my time in Eucharistic Adoration.  I was confident in my ability to help participants learn how to forgive. My arrogant confidence would soon be refined, as God quickly and profoundly reminded me of the other side of the forgiveness coin – when you are the one who needs to be forgiven. 

The first lesson came in July, during Vacation Bible School (VBS).  My family and I had participated in VBS at our last two parishes.  My children went first as campers and then later as volunteers and leaders.  In 2010, after recently adopting a little girl from China who was deaf, I retired from any administrative roles and was going as a parent and ASL interpreter for my daughter, Faith. My teenage sons had been volunteered to help, which was not a popular idea especially when it meant getting up at 7 am during summer vacation.

The first day, we were running very late. I was tired, stressed and happened to not be feeling well that morning – all things I could have easily used as excuses for what was about to happen.

We arrived late,  greeted by a group of not-so-friendly parents at the entrance, which I quickly learned was actually the line to enter the building. There was lots of noise and confusion, along with whining from my ‘teenage cherubs’ that added to my preexisting crabby condition. I finally got to the check-in and the hard-working volunteer (who was also the director), handed me a blue t-shirt indicating my Kindergarten daughter had been placed in the preschool group and … I LOST IT!

This was my first opportunity to travel through the VBS stations and I looked forward to sharing that experience with my daughter.  I wanted her to be with children her own age, even though  her language and maturity level were definitely on the younger range. I was NOT patient, nor charitable or kind with my words. The woman’s eyes welled with tears, and she offered to move my daughter to another group. Feeling overwhelmed and just wanting this experience over, I grabbed the t-shirt, mumbled, ‘”No, it is fine”, and off I went to join the main group in opening prayer and song.

After some angry ASL interpreting to the joyful, upbeat VBS welcoming songs, we were escorted into the preschool room. Immediately, I knew I had made a horrible mistake. We entered a room full of absolutely wonderful children, including two little girls, who like my daughter, had special needs. My daughter instantly fell in love with them, her fellow campers and the absolutely remarkable teacher. I instantly knew God’s plan for Faith was WAY better than mine.

At that moment I knew I had two choices. I could put my tail between my legs, find that volunteer, who was merely giving of her time and talent for the spiritual well-being of the children of our parish, and apologize. Or I could hope she’d not gotten a good look at me in the somewhat dark hall that morning, and go upon my day like nothing happened.  Praying for the strength, I decided to search her out and ask for forgiveness. It is never easy to admit when we’ve been a complete nincompoop but I knew it was exactly what I needed to do. Difficult, yes.  Embarrassing, absolutely, but no more than my behavior that morning! Her response was an immediate acceptance of my apology; she lit up with gratitude and surprise. She confided that I was not this first parent to treat her that way during VBS week; however I had been the first to ever come back an ask forgiveness for doing so. I am so glad I did, because this wonderful woman has became one of my most cherished friends.  

Days later, I received a startling email from an old friend, that I had inadvertently hurt a year prior.  Despite numerous attempts to atone and reconcile for my stupidity, her email confirmed those attempts had been to no avail as she was still angry with me and “would be for the rest of her life”.  While this hurt tremendously, but there was a great lesson to be seen in these two parallel encounters.

In both cases, I made terribly inconsiderate, hurtful choices.  In both situations, I offered a sincere apology.  One forgave, the other did not.  From the reconciled relationship has come more blessings than I can count, including a ripple effect of women growing in their faith after the VBS volunteer joined my bible study and invited others to do the same.  

The other relationship remains severed.  While my attempt to reconcile were not accepted, I did what Jesus asked of me in Matthew’s Gospel; I now feel confident approaching the altar blessed by the one who accepted my apology while forever holding the unforgiving friend in my heart.


Allison Gingras, founder (RTY);and host of A Seeking Heart on weekdays 10 am ET.   Allison is an writer and inspirational speaker.  She is a contributing author in “The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion” and the “Created to Relate” Journal and Author of the CareNote from Abbey Press entitled, “Being a Good Enough Parent”.  She presents the Catholic faith lived in the ordinary of everyday life through her experiences and humor.

last shall be first

And The Last Shall Be First

But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first. (Mt. 19:30)

It is easy, sometimes, to make such sayings of Jesus into sentimental platitudes. We might think the “last” are the poor starving children in Africa or Asia our mothers told us about when we wasted food. Or maybe we think we are “last” because of the stack of bills next to us as we watch music and tv stars flaunt their wealth. We have a vision in our own minds of just who is “first” and who is “last.”

But our ways are not God’s ways. And turning Jesus’ teachings into fantasy is a risky business – for our souls. Madeleine Delbrêl (1904-1964) was a French author and poet. She tried to see people as God sees, and challenged others to do the same. She had this to say about the above quotes from the Gospel of Matthew:

The state of being characterized by the term “last” in this sense is not something that one creates for oneself. God allows it to happen to the person he wants to have it – it’s his business. Our job is to respect in our lives those elements that resemble it in some slight way.

It is useful sometimes to take a look at what we have in our repertoire that was first and foremost a gift from other people. It is good for us to acknowledge this constantly; it is also good to focus on those things we want at all costs to do alone and those things that we genuinely need but won’t ask for only because we don’t want to ask for them.

Delbrêl’s thoughts here are exactly what the Gospel should be doing in our lives: making us a bit uncomfortable. A pebble in our shoe or a burr in our pants – what’s poking me? Why am I feeling this sense of unease? Well, in Delbrêl’s understanding, we should be feeling uncomfortable. Why? Because we are doing what humans usually do (that pesky original sin!): thinking we know God’s mind.

Who among us hasn’t thought, “I certainly deserve better than I’m getting here!” or “That guy? He’s ahead of me?? I run circles around him!” We put ourselves above others, but then in some twisted way, think we are then at the end of the line. It’s rather like bragging, “I am far more humble than anyone else!”

If we are truly honest with ourselves – a real examination of conscience – we know that much of what we have is a gift. Perhaps it was a loan from someone at a critical time in our lives. Maybe it’s that Mom and Dad paid our college tuition. Many of us have mentors or spiritual directors that point us in the right direction when we could have easily taken an errant path. And yet, we want to take the credit.

At other times, we may find ourselves in need, but we are too proud to ask for help. It may be that we are buried at work, but we don’t want our boss to think that we are not up to the task. Maybe as a parent, we feel overwhelmed with the chores of everyday life, and we need a break, but we have a “supermom” complex. As Delbrêl says, we “won’t ask for [such help] because we don’t want to.”

But even more than that, we have to come to understand that everything we have – material, spiritual, physical – is a gift from God. If we are severely lacking spiritually, it is only because we have turned away from God. God gives us exactly what we need, if we are smart enough to accept it. Delbrêl again:

The Gospel words are meant to reach into the very roots of our corruption, the depths of which we cannot fathom insofar as we do not know the great heights at which our holiness lies.  We should thus not be surprised at the sad interminable journeys, the deep upheavals that each of these words initiates within us.  We shouldn’t try to hold back this sort of free-fall of the word into our depths.  We need the passive courage that allows it to act within us – “Let it be done to me according to your Word.”

And when once a single one of these words has stolen into us, we need to know how to desire communion with all the others, even if this little book seems vast, and our life tiny, narrow, and incapable of bearing it. . .

Let the Word of God get under your skin a bit today. Let it irritate you a bit. In doing so, may God’s Word help us to see things a bit more as God sees them. Let us know what it truly means to be “first” and “last” in the Kingdom of God.


Go Ahead And Throw A Party: Being A Hospitable Christian

Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels. (Heb. 13:2)

So you’ve scrubbed and polished, cooked for days, attacked every last dust bunny and made sure that even the basement looks presentable. You are ready for company.

You are also exhausted.

Many of us believe that our house has to be up to Martha Stewart-standards in order to have company. Some of us would never make a spontaneous invitation after church: “Come on over and have coffee! We haven’t see you in months.” We end up either rarely inviting people into our homes, or we are so exhausted by the preparations we cannot enjoy the presence of friends.

St. Benedict (c. 480-c. 547), despite the fact that he was a monk (most monks take a vow of silence), knew that hospitality was an important Christian attribute. He believed this so strongly that he made it a part of the Benedictine Rule, the “guide book” if you will, of the Benedictine orders.

Keep in mind that monasteries were often safe places for travelers to stop and rest. Lay people would also visit monasteries for spiritual guidance. Even though the monastery was “home” for monks and nuns, whose primary work was prayer, the monastery frequently had visitors. The Benedictine Rule was very clear about how visitors were to be treated. They were to “be welcomed and received as Christ.” No distinctions were to be made based on wealth or status. Guests were to be invited to share in the monastic life, a rhythm of prayer, work and service.

That’s all well and good for monks, you might say, but what about me? I’ve got a job and three messy kids and a dog that sheds, and I’m not that great a cook and have you see the dust in my house? How am I supposed to be hospitable?

Jack King, an Anglican priest in Tennessee, praises what he calls “scruffy hospitality.” Like so many of us, he and his wife would say, “You know, we should have so-and-so over,” but the list of things that needed to be cleaned, prepared and cooked for that to happen meant the invitation never gets extended.

[I]viting friends into our lives when we are only ‘excellent’ isn’t friendship. Sure, there are still times we like to go all out, spruce up the house and cook a huge, Jamie Oliver style meal. It can be fun and it’s enjoyable to do things well. But that standard of excellence is rarely possible with two children under the age of 3. Friendship isn’t about always being ‘excellent’ with one another. Friendship is about preparing a space for authentic conversation. And sometimes authenticity happens when everything is a bit scruffy.

King was so convicted about this idea, he preached a sermon on it:

Scruffy hospitality means you’re not waiting for everything in your house to be in order before you host and serve friends in your home. Scruffy hospitality means you hunger more for good conversation and serving a simple meal of what you have, not what you don’t have. Scruffy hospitality means you’re more interested in quality conversation than the impression your home or lawn makes. If we only share meals with friends when we’re excellent, we aren’t truly sharing life together.

Don’t allow a to-do list disqualify you from an evening with people you’re called to love in friendship.

What we are dealing with here is pride. It is one of those oh-so-common-yet-deadly sins. We want people to be impressed. We set an impossible standard, because we don’t want to be embarrassed. Scruffy hospitality calls for a casserole, wine, music and a great big pot of humility.

Do not miss out on friendship and the making of memories because of pride. Invite folks in: into your home, into your heart and into the fellowship of Christ.


How To Become Holy: It Ain’t Gonna Be Easy

The one goal every Catholic should have is to be holy. Now, holiness looks very different in different people. God did not create humans to be cookie-cutter images of Himself or each other. Holiness can look like Mother Teresa, or Solanus Casey, or John Paul II, or Elizabeth Lesuer. No matter who we are, what we do for a living, what our situation is, one thing is certain: we are made to be holy.

Peter Kreeft, Catholic philosopher and writer, in his book How To Be Holy: First Steps in Becoming a Saint, says that God can sanctify us in two ways.

God makes us holy in two opposite ways, in the two parts of our lives. First, He makes us holy through our own will, our own free choice of faith and hope and love. (For divine grace does not turn off human free will; it turns it on.) And second, He also sanctifies us against our will, through suffering, because the other way of sanctifying us, through our own will’s choices is not strong enough, because our faith and hope and love are not strong enough. So He sanctifies us also through what He allows to happen to us against our will, in other words, suffering.

This makes perfect sense, of course. It is like the old prayer: “God, make me patient. But not yet.” Our own will and desire are simply not strong enough to overcome the weakness of sin.

How can suffering make us holy? Doesn’t it just make us cantankerous and bitter? Well, it certainly can. But if we recognize that suffering (although not pleasant) comes with gifts, we can allow it to sanctify us.

Illness can make us dependent upon others. If a person is strong-willed, this dependency can be grating. It can also be an opportunity to practice humility and patience and thankfulness. When we grieve the loss of a loved one, we are certainly allowed to be saddened. Yet if we are set upon holiness, we can use that loss to remind ourselves that life is short and precious. Our loss can spur us to be mindful of every moment God allows us.

Being holy is hard. We know this: just look at our world. We recognize holiness so easily because it’s rare; it’s like finding a gem while we are shoveling out the barn. If holiness were easy to achieve, everyone would do it. But holiness is only for those who pray, over and over, in the face of both good times and bad: “Thy will be done. Thy will be done.”


7 Heavenly Virtues: Medicine For Our Soul And The World

Yesterday, we discussed the 7 deadly sins. As stated, these sins deaden our souls to good and if left unchecked, lead to Hell. Thankfully, there is a remedy for this, a medicine, if you will, for the soul: 7 heavenly virtues.

For each of the deadly sins, there is a corresponding virtuous remedy. (A virtue, by the way, is a good habit that leads us to holiness, to God.) If for example, one struggles with gluttony, the virtue that person must cultivate is temperance. Here are each of the deadly sins with the corresponding virtue:








In today’s world, far too many people equate chastity with “no sex.” This could not be true! Since God made man and woman to complement each other in every way, that includes sexual union. Chastity means that first, we respect sexuality as a gift from God. We do not treat others as objects to be our “playthings.” Second, it means that we all must practice chastity according to our state in life: married, single, religious.

Temperance can often bring to mind the extreme stance of about 100 years ago that led to Prohibition: alcohol is evil! We must stop people from EVER imbibing. Instead, temperance means that we enjoy food, beverages, and all good things moderately. It is one beer and not the entire case. It is a tasty, healthy meal prepared and enjoyed by all, and not a back seat filled with the wrappers of fast food.

Charity seems to refer to giving to someone in need, and it can be that. But as a virtue, there is a broader meaning. “Charity” comes from the Greek “caritas,” the type of love we should show to all. It is the love that helps us love ourselves and others too much to allow us all to stay stuck in sin. It is a giving of one’s self. It heals greed by keeping us focused on others, and not ourselves. Rather than “me, me, me” charity says, “How can I serve you?”

The virtue of fortitude cultivates true courage. Sloth is, in many ways, related to fear. “I’m afraid I won’t get a job; why bother looking?” “Dad is always telling me I don’t do anything right, so I’m gonna lay here and watch tv.” But sloth also leads us to laziness in our faith: “I know I’m supposed to go to Mass, but Sunday is the only day I get to sleep in.” By practicing fortitude – doing what is right even when it is difficult – we can overcome sloth.

Envy is that “green-eyed monster” that makes us angry over others’ good fortune. Benevolence, on the other hand, allows us to see others’ success with the same attitude that we would see our own. We realize we are all God’s children, connected if you will, by divine DNA. Benevolence allows us to stop comparing ourselves to others; rather, we seek the goodwill of all.

If you pray for patience, God will provide. No, he will not “magically” make you more patient. He WILL provide you with plenty of opportunities to BE patient! Wrath sends our lives out of balance: we become consumed with anger and revenge. We seek to hurt others. We “lose it.” Patience provides balance. We react with docility rather than anger. We don’t “fly off the handle” with annoyance and petulance; we react with a calm spirit.

If pride is the root of all the deadly sins, then humility must be the starting point for all the remedies that virtues provide. Humility does not mean you’re a doormat: that you allow people to take advantage of you, or that we don’t stand up for justice when someone is wronged (even if that someone is ourself.) No, humility is Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. It is the attitude that, as a Catholic, I am meant to serve others first. We treat everyone with dignity, from the leader of a nation, to a CEO to a homeless woman on the street. Even more, we realize that we are no better than anyone else; we are equal in God’s love and mercy for us.

No one said being a faithful Catholic was easy! Practicing the virtues is hard – there is no way around it. Just like an athlete must put in hours and hours in the gym, or an artist knows that only the time-consuming practice of technique will create great art, so it is with virtue. We try, we fail and confess, we try harder. That is the “cure” for sin and the medicine needed for ourselves and our world.