seek

Seek Good, Seek God

What wonderful messages from our Lenten readings today! From our first reading by Isaiah we get a sense of the extraordinary life that our Lord promises us and today’s pre-Gospel verse and reading from John provide insight into how to get there. We begin with Isaiah’s reading and the Lord’s promise of a world free from pain and sorry and, instead, full of joy and gladness. It is believed that Isaiah is writing about this utopian world in apocalyptic language and, thus, it should not necessarily be taken literally. Instead, it provides insight into what life could be on earth and what certainly awaits us following our death. God undoubtedly provides us the means to minimize suffering and sadness in our lives and to maximize the wellbeing of all on earth. It is through the teachings and actions of Jesus and his message of love and compassion for others that guide us during this Lenten season and beyond.

Following the teachings of Jesus is not always easy. Our pre-Gospel reading reminds us of that and the importance of not necessarily being perfect and free of evil but, instead, to seek good in all we do. Lent is that pathway in which we reflect on our faults and do what we can to address these and to become the best we can in God’s eyes. And to me that involves doing all I can to not only follow the teachings of Jesus, but to seek out a life based on the example that he provided to us while on earth. Although this is difficult to do and I am certainly not close to perfect, I am reassured that the Lord will accompany me along the way.

John’s reading highlights the healing power of Jesus but, more importantly, addresses the value of faith. As seen in the John’s reading, the royal official wanted Jesus to visit his ill son who was near death in order to save him. Although Jesus healed his son, he chastised the man and others for seeking “signs and wonders” in order to believe. As we progress through Lent, John reminds us of the importance of having faith in the word of God. And rather than coming to God only when we need him, to open up a daily conversation with God and to trust that He will answer our prayers in His way and not necessarily according to our wishes or expectations for He knows us best. The key is to be open to God’s words, to seek good in all we do, and to have faith as we progress through the Lenten season on a journey that will lead to a long, beautiful, and joyous life with God!

 

Today’s guest blogger is Michael Kavan, currently the Associate Dean for Student Affairs at Creighton University School of Medicine. He is also a psychologist and a Professor of Family Medicine and Professor of Psychiatry. A faculty member at Creighton since 1988, Kavan teaches classes on a variety of topics related to behavioral medicine, depression, anxiety, and interviewing skills for medical students and residents. He also practices psychology at a family medicine clinic.

Kavan says, “I am happily married to my wife, Mary, and we have four daughters ages 22, 21, 18, and 14. I truly enjoy working with medical students and assisting in their professional development. I like to spend time cycling, running, fly fishing, reading, and spending time with my family.”

[This reflection is used by permission from Creighton University’s Collaborative Ministry Office.]

thirsty

How Thirsty Are You?

As we continue in the Lenten season, an image forms in our minds of a desert. Perhaps this is because we hear in the Scriptures that Christ fasted in the desert for forty days and forty nights, but I think the imagery goes deeper than this.

Think back to the Gospel reading from last Sunday where we see a Samaritan woman retrieving water from the well. Here is a woman who is so thirsty, but not necessarily thirsty for physical water. She is thirsty for healing, for hope, for truth, for love.

She has had one broken relationship after another and wants more than anything to be loved and accepted. Jesus engages this woman, doesn’t  judge her or condemn her. But he invites her. He invites her into a relationship and says, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

All throughout Scripture the number seven is used to denote perfection. The Samaritan woman has had six husbands up to this point who have not given her the love she longs for and the love she deserves. Christ enters the scene as the perfect bridegroom to us all, offering  a relationship that will truly satisfy. He says, “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Here is bridegroom number seven – perfectly fulfilling his promise of true love.

Now put yourself into this story. Ask yourself honestly how you will respond to this invitation from Christ. Will you try to hide the hurt in your life? Will you continue to draw water from a well that will never satisfy? Or will you humble yourself – like the Samaritan woman – and allow Christ to pour his life-giving water into your heart? Happy Lent!

 

Change LentTommy Shultz is Diocesan Publication’s Solutions Evangelist. He is also a full time speaker who was most recently the Director of youth and young adult ministries for the Diocese of Baker, OR. As an experienced speaker on all things Catholic, he has addressed thousands of teens and young adults on topics such as the Sacraments, chastity, and boldly living the Catholic faith. He has given many talks and hosted retreats across the nation. Driven by his passion for Theology of the Body, Tommy studied at the Theology of the Body Institute and has spoken at numerous Theology of the Body conferences. From 2012-2013, he served as a missionary of purity, speaking to over 20 thousand youth about the message of purity across the state of Pennsylvania. He is also a founder of the Corpus Christi Theology of the Body campus organization at Franciscan University. To book Tommy for an event or for further information please visit www.tommy-shultz.com.

trust obedience

Trusting in the Other Side of Obedience

 

“Behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sons.” When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.” – Mat. 1:17- 24

Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity  of Saint Joseph. Little is known about Joseph, and no words of his are recorded in Scripture. We do know that he was a man of love, faith and obedience. In his human frailty, he must also have experienced fear and doubt.

In fact, scripture tells us that when Joseph discovered that the Blessed Virgin Mary was pregnant he decided to divorce her quietly until an angel appeared to him. How was Joseph able to change his mind and be obedient to God’s call, rather than believing his dream was perhaps the result of rotten goat’s milk before bed?  Looking at Scripture again, Joseph is described as “a righteous man.” Righteous, selfless and obedient, Joseph stepped out in faith, supporting Mary and God’s plan for their family.

“Someone’s faith stands on the other side of our obedience,” a friend commented after Bible study years ago. His comment remains with me, bubbling to the surface when questions arise in my faith or trials last longer than it seems I can possibly bear.

Marriage is a great platform for faith and obedience. In this Sacrament, husband and wife vow to remain faithful for better for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.” The grace of this Sacrament compels spouses to stay true to these promises “until death do us part.” So when tough times come – and they will  – I can stand firm, trusting in God’s plan of salvation and knowing that my obedience is planting seeds not only for today, but for our family in generations yet to come, just as generations past impact us today.

God led Joseph and Mary down one unexpected path after another. They knew their son was special, yet instead of being prideful, Joseph and Mary showed great humility in following Jewish law. They took their son to the temple in Jerusalem, just as all Jewish parents at that time did with their firstborn sons.

At this presentation, Simeon’s faith was rewarded specifically because of Joseph and Mary’s obedience. “Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord.” Simeon, being a righteous man, had trust in the Lord’s promise that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord.” Simeon’s faith was standing on the other side of Joseph and Mary’s obedience.

On this celebration of Saint Joseph and throughout the Lenten season, let us ask our Lord to strengthen our faith and help us to grow in love, which bears the fruit of obedience. Staying close to Jesus on our journey, we will hear the voice of the Holy Spirit telling us when to act and which way to go. Jesus, Mary, Joseph, pray for us.

 

Amy Oatley is a wife, mother, and Secular Franciscan (OFS), passionate about social justice, advocating for the dignity of every human life. She encounters Christ through Prison and Jail Ministry in the Diocese of Grand Rapids and as a Sidewalk Advocate for Life. A journalist for the past thirty years, she is currently a freelance writer for FAITH Magazine and works at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish. Her home parish is Our Lady of Consolation in Rockford, Michigan.

steadfast in faith

Steadfast In Faith For Lent

At Mass, we try to pay special attention to the readings and sermon. With good reason: God is present in His Word among the people. But some of the prayers and other parts of the Mass can slip by us.

My pastor told us a while back to pay attention to the “Collect.” This is the short prayer the priest prays at the very end of the introductory rites, just before we are seated to listen to the Word of God. Today’s Collect is quite beautiful:

O God, who delight in innocence and restore it,
direct the hearts of your servants to yourself,
that, caught up in the fire of your Spirit
may be found steadfast in faith
and effective in works.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.

We could easily reflect all day on this lovely prayer, but one part truly caught my attention: “may be found steadfast in faith and effective in works.”

That OUR part, our pledge. We are asking Almighty God to direct our hearts through the Holy Spirit so that we can go forth from the Mass, nourished by the Eucharist, and – despite whatever comes our way today – we will hold fast to our faith and be effective in the vocation God has imparted to us. That is our prayer directly before the Word of God and the Gospel. That Word too will nourish us in faith. It will give us the example and strength to be effective in our work, just as our forefathers and -mothers in Scripture have been.

Whether you are able to attend Mass today, the Collect is a good prayer to meditate upon. Ask God, along with the Universal Church, to help you be steadfast in faith and effective in works today.

 

EH headshotElise Hilton is an author, blogger and speaker. Her role at Diocesan Publications is Editor & Writer with the Marketing Team. She has worked in parish faith formation and Catholic education for over 25 years. A passionate student of theology, Elise enjoys sharing her thoughts on parish communication, the role of social media in the Church, Franciscan spirituality and Catholic parenting. To enquire about booking her as a speaker, please contact her at ehilton@diocesan.com.

motherhood

Lent and the vocation of motherhood

In today’s Gospel the mother of the sons of Zebedee has a request of Jesus: “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.”

We may read with a “tsk, tsk” on our lips because, who does she think she is anyway? The ultimate stage mom, right? But let’s look a little closer. This woman doesn’t even have a name. Her boys, James and John are referred to as the “sons of Zebedee” no matter how long she was in labor with them or how well she mothered them to adulthood.

And let’s also consider how the followers of Jesus believed he was going to overthrow the Roman rule and establish a kingdom for the Jewish people. Their hope was a bit more of a concrete kingdom than the Kingdom of God that Jesus had in mind. So can we be more understanding of this nameless woman who just wanted her boys to succeed? Let’s be forgiving of her and remember the times we have pushed our kids to the front of the line to be noticed or cringed in fear when our kid played goalie on the soccer team.

We want our children to do well, that comes very naturally to moms. But “doing well” means being kind to others, sharing nicely, encouraging the success of others, not just our own kids. Our kids look to us to see how to behave, and that is the best gift we can give them, the gift of a good example. So, dear Zebedee’s wife, mother of James and John, we understand you wanting your sons to be successful; please pray for us that we can be good examples for our kids!

To ponder: Can we think of times we unfairly or unwisely pushed our kids to make ourselves proud? Can we think of times we have shown a good example for our kids and taught them how to treat others?

Gracious God, this vocation of motherhood can be so difficult at times! Help us to teach our kids, through our good example, to treat others with kindness and love…the greatest lesson of all!

 

Heidi Gainan is the mom of three grown and very wonderful kids! She has worked in the blind rehabilitation field for more years than she can count (37!) She recently completed a Spiritual Direction training program, which has been a lovely journey of faith. Please give her blog a peek at The (Almost) Daily Heidi-Gram. This post is reprinted with permission from CatholicMom.com.

forgiven

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 www.ReconciledToYou.com (RTY);and host of A Seeking Heart on BreadboxMedia.com 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.

1 day

Sharing Our Lenten Journey: ODB Films

We’re always looking for great Catholic content to share with you. “Great” certainly describes ODB Films; they take the Faith seriously, but also believe that art is very important. They’ve created a film series, “A Lenten Journey,” that is unique and, we believe, well worth your time. It’s great for discussions from teens through adults, families, small groups or individuals. (If you’d like to follow the entire journey, may we suggest that you go to ODB Films and become a Partner? It’s free.)

On the first Friday of Lent 2017, we are happy to present, That 1 Day. (After you’ve watched this, one of the questions ODB asks us to reflect on is this:  Do you know Christ’s life, His sufferings, and what He did for you out of total love?)

Allow Yourself To Be Changed This Lent

[During Lent, Diocesan Publications offers daily Lenten reflections from a variety of guest bloggers. To receive these in your mailbox, please fill out the “Subscribe” box below the post. May you have a blessed Lent! – Editor]

 

Here we are one day into Lent! Some of us really know how to conquer Lent and don’t have a problem with it, while the rest of us lowly individuals probably forgot yesterday that bacon does in fact count as meat. I place myself in that final category.

I have always struggled with Lent, but I think that’s because I grew up with a misunderstanding about what Lent really is. I grew up thinking that Lent was a time to suffer, to give up the things we love, and to be miserable for the sake of being miserable. I think anyone with a brain would detest this idea of Lent and while Lent may include suffering and sacrifice, it is really about change.

Just as we have seasons throughout the year we also have seasons in the Church. I know that every year I get excited for fall. The leaves change, it gets a little colder, there are more bonfires, and I love Halloween and Thanksgiving. But the thing I love most is the changing color of the leaves. Every season brings with it some sort of change and whether we like that change or not, it helps bring us to the next season.

For example, I am not a huge fan of winter, but winter has to come in order for us to get to spring. It has to freeze so that eventually it can thaw and allow the trees to bud and bring about beautiful fruit. Sometimes we have to go through something that may not be ideal in order to get to the things that really make us joyful.

It is the same with Lent. Some of us may not be particularly fond of the sacrifice and struggle that comes with Lent, but the more we allow ourselves to change throughout this season, the more fruitful we will be in our daily lives.

Although sacrifice may sometimes hurt, it ultimately makes us stronger and brings us to greater joy. Instead of going into Lent with a negative attitude about sacrifice, let’s all look to the sacrifice of the cross and be thankful that Christ was willing to give the ultimate sacrifice in order that we might be changed.

“Jesus Christ has taken the lead on the way of the cross. He has suffered first. He does not drive us toward suffering but shares it with us, wanting us to have life and to have it in abundance.” ~St. John Paul II

“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” ~Luke 9:23

 

 

Change LentTommy Schultz is a full time speaker who was most recently the Director of youth and young adult ministries for the Diocese of Baker, OR. As an experienced speaker on all things Catholic, he has addressed thousands of teens and young adults on topics such as the Sacraments, chastity, and boldly living the Catholic faith. He has given many talks and hosted retreats across the nation. Driven by his passion for Theology of the Body, Tommy studied at the Theology of the Body Institute and has spoken at numerous Theology of the Body conferences. From 2012-2013, he served as a missionary of purity, speaking to over 20 thousand youth about the message of purity across the state of Pennsylvania. He is also a founder of the Corpus Christi Theology of the Body campus organization at Franciscan University. To book Tommy for an event or for further information please visit www.tommy-shultz.com.

Now Is The Acceptable Time

[Beginning today, Diocesan Publications offers daily Lenten reflections from a variety of guest bloggers. To receive these in your mailbox, please fill out the “Subscribe” box below the post. May you have a blessed Lent! – Editor]

 

“Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God.” These words from the prophet Joel in today’s first reading stood out during my morning meditation, more specifically, the word, ‘heart.’

Clearly, the Lord wants us to surrender our “whole heart” to bring about radical conversion during our Lenten journey. Conversion happens individually, in community, and through the Sacraments. On Ash Wednesday “we assemble the elders and gather the children and infants.”  With hungry hearts we come together and acknowledge our sinfulness, “a clean heart create for me, O God and a steadfast spirit renew within me.”

Renewal, reconciliation and gratitude are essential elements in our relationship with Jesus and one another. As we sit with gratitude at the feet of the Master, His peace “will guard our hearts and minds” from the chaos of the world around us. At times, that chaos is even inside of us, yet our Father is always near calling to us, “harden not your heart.” During Lent, we are once again invited to go deeper into the silence of our hearts.

St. John of the Cross once said, “The Father spoke one Word, which was His Son, and this Word He always speaks in eternal silence and in silence it must be heard by the soul.” (Maxims on Love, in Collected Works) It takes great courage to enter into silence and ask the Holy Spirit to shine His light on the darkness in our heart; the darkness where temptation, brokenness and selfish desires reside.

Do not be afraid, for I am with you,” says the Lord. So, we take one moment at a time, for this moment is all we really have. Our Lady will help undo the knots that bind us and lead us to deeper freedom through her Son Jesus.  

In today’s gospel, Christ shows us the way. “When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”  

He repays with mercy that allows us moments of rejoicing, even as painful renewal may be stretching us to our human limits. His strength brings forth beautiful graces. For me, this has happened while kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament preparing for the Sacrament of Confession. The Holy Spirit opened my eyes to see how my sinful behavior had caused friction in a family relationship. With great love, my Father revealed this to me, so healing could begin. When we take the time to humble ourselves and listen, God is there not with condemnation, but love to celebrate each step, understanding that change takes time and requires patience – with Him and with ourselves.

We are a new creation in Christ, not defined by our sin, but by His love. Will we step outside our comfort zone to share our testimony so that others, too, may turn their hearts to Jesus and be set free?

Today and throughout this Lenten season, each one of us is being called to “Trust in Jesus even more,” as the late Father George Kosicki, CSB, wrote on a 3×5 note card for me years ago, on a spiritual retreat. Our Father stands daily at the door of our hearts, inviting us to enter into a deeper relationship with Him through Jesus’ Divine Mercy.

Now more than ever, the world needs Christ’s love within us. The Church gives us this special season to bring us back into right relationship with Him so we can go out to serve one another. “For he says: ‘In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you. Now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” Lent is the time for our hearts to be made clean so that we can freely meet Jesus and others with greater love and less judgement. May we unite together in the Heart of Jesus, with renewed spirit and be ready for radical transformation on the journey ahead.

 

Amy Oatley is a wife, mother, and Secular Franciscan (OFS), passionate about social justice, advocating for the dignity of every human life. She encounters Christ through Prison and Jail Ministry in the Diocese of Grand Rapids and as a Sidewalk Advocate for Life. A journalist for the past thirty years, she is currently a freelance writer for FAITH Magazine and works at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish. Her home parish is Our Lady of Consolation in Rockford, Michigan.

a clean heart

“Create In Me A Clean Heart:” 4 Ways To Do Just That

Just as any athlete trains for a big event, or a performer for a big show, we prepare for Lent. We know it is, as they say, a marathon and not a sprint. We want to start and finish strong.

We want to become more and more like Christ: a clean heart, a forgiving heart, a compassionate heart, a joyful heart.

With Ash Wednesday nearly upon us, how do we set about this task? We begin by pondering, prayerfully, the readings for Ash Wednesday Mass. They are a treasure-trove; how blessed we are to have this gift! Now, let’s look at four ways we can set about, with steadfast reliance on God, being open to having a clean heart.

  1. In the first reading (from the book of the prophet Joel), we have our first instruction. God says: “Return to me with your whole heart.” Don’t hold back this Lent. God loves you so much! There is nothing He won’t do for you. Yes, you’ve sinned. Yes, you’ve strayed. But God is waiting to embrace you. All you need to do is turn to Him, heart in hand, and say, “Here. Here I am.” If you think that God is not madly in love with you, pray over that first reading from Joel. Ask God to show you His mercy.
  2. Confess your sins. The responsorial psalm (from Psalm 51) calls out to us to beg God for forgiveness. (If you’re not sure why confessing our sins in the Sacrament of Confession is important and necessary, check out this short video from Bishop Robert Barron.) It is amazing that we serve a God who is not vindictive or mean-spirited or miserly. No, God is generous and merciful, willing and able to pour out His Spirit upon us.
  3. In the second reading for Ash Wednesday, St. Paul implores us to be “ambassadors for Christ.” What a worthy goal for Lent! Where and when can we share the love of Christ during the Lenten season? Who are the people in our lives that we have injured through our sinfulness? Those are the people we need to reach out to this Lent. Ask for forgiveness. And if someone in our lives reaches out to us, meet that gesture with the love that Christ has given to us, “as if God were appealing through us.”
  4. Pray, fast, give alms. Of course, these are the cornerstones of Lenten practices. Christ Himself gives us this directive in the Gospel of Matthew. Many of us plan a way to do each of these during Lent. However, look for those places when you can spontaneously add to this. For instance, if you’ve given up something (like coffee) for Lent, whenever that craving hits, add a prayer to that moment. If you’ve given up coffee, maybe one day a week you add to that fast by drinking only water. Turn off the radio during your commute, and use that time to pray. Add a formal prayer, such as the rosary, during Lent. Be generous with  your time: offer to babysit for a young mother or finish a project your spouse has been wanting done. Get down on the floor and play with the kids after dinner. Remember, if we want God to work the miracle of a clean heart in us, we must become more and more like Him.

“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord!” Let us pray that, this Lent, we are truly open to the mercy of God. This Lent, let us strive to cause fewer and fewer offenses to God and to others. This Lent, let the joy of salvation and a willing spirit be ours, through the compassion of God.

EH headshotElise Hilton is an author, blogger and speaker. She has worked in parish faith formation and Catholic education for over 25 years. A passionate student of theology, Elise enjoys sharing her thoughts on parish communication, the role of social media in the Church, Franciscan spirituality and Catholic parenting. To enquire about booking her as a speaker, please contact her at ehilton@diocesan.com.

 

best lent ever

6 Ways To Make This Lent The Best Ever

We have 6 days until Lent. If you’re like me, you’ve only given a fleeting thought about what to give up: “Hmmm, maybe chocolate this year. Maybe tv. We watch too much tv….” And that is where your Lenten planning begins … and ends. Let’s get real; if you don’t have your Lenten plan in place by this weekend, you probably won’t have one at all. Let’s make this the best Lent ever!

Here are some concrete suggestions. Choose one or two. Or maybe this list will spark your imagination.

      1. Ask God. Find some quiet time in the next day or two; a half an hour would be ideal. In front of the Blessed Sacrament would be perfect! In that quiet time, tell God you want your Lenten journey to please Him, to be for Him. Ask him what He’d like you to do. Then: be quiet. Very still. You’ll get your answer.
      2. Give up something in order to give something. We are all familiar with “giving up” something for Lent. We give up chocolate, steadfastly making our way around the niece’s birthday cake, dinner at Grandma’s (“Eat! You look thin!”) until it’s Easter Sunday and you can happily munch the ears off all the chocolate bunnies. Noble, but it doesn’t really get at the heart of Lent, does it? After all, Lent is not some weight-loss program that had holy water sprinkled over it. We make sacrifices during Lent to remind us that Christ has made the greatest sacrifice of all, and we want to join with him in this terrible beauty.  If you’re going to give up something for Lent, here are a couple of ideas to make it a mindful Lenten practice. First, every time you find yourself reaching for that treat, pray. Just something simple, like “Jesus, I trust in you” or “Glory be to the Father and the Son….” Allow that craving to be redirected to worship. Second, figure out about how much money you spent on your treat. Are you buying a $4 latte every day? Do you stop and get fast food once or twice a week? Take that amount and donate it to a charity of your choice. Double those blessings!
      3. Get the family involved. One way you may be called to Lent is to get the whole family involved. Catholic Relief Services’ Operation Rice Bowl has some amazing and fun ways to get kids involved while learning about areas of the world where finding clean water and wholesome food can be a struggle.
      4. Commit to daily prayer. Yes, you’re busy. Yup, you’ve got work and kids and soccer and ballet and dinner and that big project due in April and… Yup, you are busy. Pray anyway.Finding 30 minutes of silence in your day is invaluable for your relationship with Christ. You call your mom every day, right? Or your best friend? You find 30 minutes a day to tinker in the wood shop downstairs, don’t you? Then you’ve got the time. And Christ desperately wants to hear from you.
      5. Make time for family. Sometimes we feel like we are spending time together simply because we live together. But with 5 people going in 15 directions, you probably aren’t truly together that much. Spend Saturday night or Sunday afternoon making some popcorn and pulling out old board games. At the end of the game, tell each of the family members how much you love them and why you appreciate spending time with them.
      6. Be grateful (and the flip side: Don’t complain) We take so much for granted – from the fact that our spouse brings us coffee in bed every single morning to a vast array of things we have to amuse ourselves to the different flavors of ice cream at the local ice cream shop. Yet, we still find ways to be grumpy. To complain. To find fault. This Lent, flip that around. When you find yourself thinking, “This coffee isn’t very hot; he does this every morning” stop yourself. Instead, think, “I am so blessed to have such a thoughtful spouse. Thank you, God for this blessing.” Lift your thoughts from the negative to the prayerful positive.

Our annual Lenten practices are such a blessed opportunity for us to work on shedding our sinful nature and to grow closer to God, especially as we ponder daily the Life, Death, and Resurrection of His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Heavenly Father, bless us as we ponder our Lenten journey. We desire to please you and to grow in faith. We beg that you help us with this good endeavors. We ask this through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

EH headshotElise Hilton is an author, blogger, and speaker. She has worked in parish faith formation and Catholic education for over 25 years. A passionate student of theology, Elise enjoys sharing her thoughts on parish communication, the role of social media in the Church, Franciscan spirituality and Catholic parenting. To inquire about booking her as a speaker, please contact her at ehilton@diocesan.com.

 

make disciples

Go And Make Disciples

When we hear the words, “Go and make disciples,” it’s easy to think that Jesus is talking to someone else. After all, isn’t this what He told his Apostles? He wasn’t really talking to me, was He?

It’s easy to think that. But it’s wrong. Each of us, baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, is called to “go and make disciples.” This theme was chosen by the USCCB (United States’ Conference of Catholic Bishops) for the evangelization plan for the United States.

The  church, the people of God, has always been called to be an evangelizing church  sent by Jesus as he returned to the Father to: “Go and make disciples of  all nations…” There have been successes and failures in fulfilling this  commission of Jesus. The Second Vatican Council in our time gave a significant  thrust to this essential mission of the church.

What does it mean to evangelize? Are we meant to stand on a soapbox and preach? Should we sit our neighbors down and outline the Gospel for them? The US Bishops say,

Evangelization, then, has both an inward and an outward direction. Inwardly it calls for our continued receiving of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, our ongoing conversion both individually and as Church. It nurtures us, makes us grow, and renews us in holiness as God’s people. Outwardly evangelization addresses those who have not heard the Gospel or who, having heard it, have stopped practicing their faith, and those who seek the fullness of faith. It calls us to work for full communion among all who confess Jesus but do not yet realize the unity for which Christ prayed. Pope John Paul Il, in his encyclical on missionary activity, summed up the three objectives of mission: to proclaim the Gospel to all people; to help bring about the reconversion of those who have received the Gospel but live it only nominally; and to deepen the Gospel in the lives of believers.

The first step, then, in evangelization is to make sure our own house (so to speak) is in order. We must seek holiness for ourselves, as we cannot give what we do not have. Then, we can reach out to others in faith. There are those who say, “Your life may be the only ‘Bible’ someone ever reads.” This means our actions, words and our contact with others should always be a demonstration of our life for Christ and for others. However, we cannot leave it simply at that. We are meant to proclaim Christ and Him crucified. We are meant to share the Good News: that Christ has lived, died and been risen for our sins, and that death no longer has a hold on us. The freedom of Christ is meant for all, not a chosen few.

As we continue to prepare for the Lenten season, let us be aware of the fact that Christ has called us to go and make disciples. He desires that all people know Him and the freedom from sin He offers. If we truly believe in this Good News, we cannot keep it to ourselves. With the US Bishops that,

We pray that our Catholic people will be set ablaze with a desire to live their faith fully and share it freely with others. May their eagerness to share the faith bring a transformation to our nation and, with missionary dedication, even to the whole world. We ask God to open the heart of every Catholic, to see the need for the Gospel in each life, in our nation and on our planet.

Together, let us go and make disciples, with joy!