The blooms of Witch Hazel are a sure sign that Spring is coming. The blooms resemble forsythia from a distance, but are quite distinct and fragrant. That's St. Fiacre in the distance emerging from under the snow.
God tells Abram to do so in order to impress him with the generosity of His promise to Abram. It's still a wonderful invitation to prayer to our transcendent God.
In short order, we will hear about the Suffering Servant, our God who was mocked, spat upon, bound, scourged and led to crucifixion. During the events of Holy Week, the transcendent power of our God may seem hard to find.
The God of Abram drew close enough to enter into a covenant with him. In our New Covenant with God, Jesus not only draws near, but becomes one of us.
Pray under the stars this Lent. It brings gratitude and humility.
Image from the Hubble telescope.
Francisco, Eduardo and our Snow Removal company have been clearing the parking lot and pathways around the church and school, but as you can see, hear and feel, the wind has been blowing fiercely at times, leading to accumulations and drifting in odd places.
We prayed mass this morning for a few hardy souls who reached the church. Stations of the Cross followed by confessions this evening at 7 PM are so far still on for those who live nearby or who can safely reach church, barring even more extreme weather. Check here for more information. There is no one in the office and the parish phone message system will not be updated with weather closings.
The forbidden often seems more attractive, but even the mere sacrifice of meat on Friday can remind us of our need for penance and unite us more closely with Jesus today. That's the crucial link, because otherwise the choice of what we eat today is simply driven by what's in the refrigerator, what looks good on the menu, or what is most healthy. The sacrifice is a gift, freely given, consciously made, united in prayer to Jesus' passion.
Holy Cross School is closed tomorrow due to inclement weather.
Daily morning mass, Stations of the Cross, and Confessions will be held for all who can get here safely.
Perhaps being shut-in will give us an opportunity to do some spiritual reading or watch an uplifting video about virtue, especially with the family.
I could not find any YouTube videos of the Stations which I would recommend for children.
The Office of Catholic Schools sent word to pastors and principals today that Incarnation-St. James School in Ewing is scheduled to close at the end of this school year, June 2010, although last minute efforts are underway to prevent such a disappointment.
According to the Diocese, "The school board, Parish Finance Council and Pastoral Council and pastor asked Bishop Smith's permission to close the school due to declining enrollment, escalating costs and the fiscal burden to the parish."
Incarnation parish opened the school in 1955 which has been staffed from the beginning by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (I.H.M.). In 2006, St. James parish and Incarnation parish were merged. The parish has been staffed by the Trinitarian Fathers in recent years. The school's facilities include a new addition in 2003, gymnasium, science lab, computer lab and had recently been outfitted with SMART boards and wireless internet. There are Advanced math classes and Spanish classes available for older students. Music, art and physical education is included in the curriculum. The school parents participate in the SCRIP program.
How fortunate we are at Holy Cross to have robust student enrollment and a sound fiscal base, because even supportive teachers, staff, school parents, parish and pastor cannot always guarantee a school will remain open.
Our prayers go out to the families at St. James/ Incarnation for their best, meantime let us thank God for our blessings during this Lenten season and all pitch in to keep our school an excellent place for Catholic education. We cannot take our Catholic parish schools for granted.
Esther had no earthly hope that her truth-telling mission to the king would succeed and she risked her own life to carry it out. Her prayers to God were heartfelt and filled with hope and no small measure of desperation. She had no one else on whom to rely.
Perhaps we're a bit uncomfortable talking about desperate prayer, but I suspect we've all prayed from that place of urgency in our hearts more than once. Esther's prayer can be our model for times like that. With nothing but her trust in God, the truth and her courage, she saved not only a worthy man, but her entire Jewish people.
The Book of Jonah never fails to cheer me up or give me a smile. Filled with irony and a sense of humor, sad sack Jonah is forcibly transformed from runaway to evangelist - the most successful evangelist of his day. All of Ninevah repents...to Jonah's bitter disappointment that the Ninevites averted fire and brimstone.
The king surely must have been tempted to despair, but when he himself fasts and does penance and orders the people to do the same, he concludes, "Who knows, God may relent."
It's never too late in Nineveh or now. Surely God will accept our Lenten repentance and hopelessness or inertia should not tempt us to think otherwise.
But a "Who knows?" attitude before any major endeavor is helpful too. It seems far more healthy than an invincibly powerful "can do" attitude, or the opposite extreme of "what's the use?" Who knows, with God's help, it's surely worth setting out on a great adventure.
We hope to make confessions available before and after some masses during Lent. Trouble is the priests' schedule for Lent is not yet complete; as soon as it is, we'll post the availability of confessions.
For this Sunday, the schedule looks fine. We'll have to fix a suitable place in the gymatorium for confessions. Both face-to-face and anonymous confessions will be offered in both the church and the gymatorium. Confessions are in the gym immediately preceeding those masses which will be held in the gym, otherwise, all confessions will be heard in the church. The priest hearing confessions will, in general also be saying the mass.
Books and meeting topics can be picked up in the Parish Office
and will also be available at the first session.
See you for one or all the discussions!
A new edition of D. Stanley Eitzen's Fair and Foul:Beyond the Myths and Paradoxes of Sport has been recently published. In this controversial book, Eitzen examines the good and bad of America's seeming obsession with sports and the its effects on student and professional athletes, our colleges and our professional teams. He asks some sobering questions about America's sacrosanct treatment of sports and using sociological data attempts to find answers. The book contains not only many anecdotes of well-known coaches and players, but also lesser known college and student athletes.
This book may help us to find spiritual balance in our lives, and honestly re-assess some of our priorities. At least it illuminates the good and the bad of sport, so that we can minimize the bad, especially as a parish and a school.
Watch for a series of posts featuring excerpts from this book and others on this important issue during Lent.
Next: Does participation in competitive sports build character?
Mass attendance was at its best level this year. Congratulations especially to Class 8A on their great improvement; the challenge will be to maintain this excellent achievement.
C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters are a series of letters from one of Satan's devils to a trainee-devil, Wormwood. It's always an interesting read, especially in light of the very specific temptations issued to Jesus by Satan and the very specific advice given to Wormwood by his devil-mentor.
Let's think about three problems the devil poses for us today using Screwtape Letters as a point of reflection.
1) The Devil - A Problem
"There are two equal and opposite problems into which ..we can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe and to feel an excessive or unhealthy interest in them."
How true this still is today. The sophisticated dismiss belief in a personified evil like the devil as naive; others take the occult, magic and vampires far too seriously, even devil worship.
Jesus wasn't tempted by an impassive evil force. Since Jesus had refuted the first two temptations using Scripture, the devil even quoted Scripture in his third temptation.
2) Make the Christian Virtues Abstract and Therefore Unreal
Everyone has both benevolence and malice in their souls. "The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbors whom he meets everyday and to thrust his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary."
I love humanity, it's people I can't stand is an aphorism which is not only humorous, but truthful in many cases.
We so often hear people describe themselves as basically good, honest, generous, etc. but their self-description doesn't always bear scrutiny especially when their actual behavior is observed. Sometimes we act virtuously in public, but quite differently when we feel our cheating or miserliness will go undetected.
3) Stir the Pot, Spread Discontent
"Surely you know that if a man can't be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for a church that "suits" him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches...The search for a suitable church makes the man a critic were [God] wants him to be a pupil."
This is a vocational hazard of priesthood, but with increasing mobility and the many masses which are still readily available to our community, it affects the laity as well. For the priest or the liturgist, trained to critique liturgy, it becomes difficult to turn the inner critic off, and worship with open mind and heart at liturgies where priests gather and pray together.
Similarly, our heads can be filled with irrelevant chatter during mass which distracts us from worship and prevents spiritual benefits. "Why don't they," "You should" and "I think" have their place at liturgy committees, or discussions about the liturgy, but when too many critical observations pop into our heads at liturgy, we destroy the possibility of communion with God or neighbor.
So we should take the existence of the devil seriously, understand that our temptations may be very subtle and often invisible to us. We take reassurance that Jesus has conquered Satan and so too may we if we don't listen to Satan's wiles or ask Jesus' help to resist them.
Lent is a time for waking up to our spiritual state. As Lewis says, "the safest road to hell is the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts."
While we were praying Stations of the Cross on Friday, it occurred to me that it would be a wonderful time to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Several people who had prayed the Stations remained for confession.
We'll continue the practice, so spread the word: Stations of the Cross on Fridays during Lent followed immediately by confessions (at approximately 7:30 PM). We'll use the church's confessional, so that either face-to-face or anonymous confession can be done.
Reflection on the passion of Christ helps us appreciate Jesus' sufferings for us, His gracious mercy, and an acute awareness of our sinfulness. If it's been a while since you experienced Jesus' forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, consider praying with us on Friday.
Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B. gives a valuable Lenten reflection on the ancient practice of fasting and its place in the modern world. (C.S.B. stands for the Congregation of St. Basil, or the Basilians) The USCCB webpage, from which this is taken, has other video Lenten reflections as well.
One young girl was seen coming out of Church yesterday after having received ashes protecting her forehead from the wind so that the ashes wouldn't disappear! She actually had the right idea! Even though the charcoal particles will have washed away (hopefully) by today, the sign of the Cross should be an enduring one for each of us.
The Sign of the Cross plays a crucial role in the Church's sacraments. We are signed with the cross by our parents and godparents just before our baptisms, and moments later after the water has been poured, signed with sacred chrism to be marked for Christ. This sign is re-affirmed at our Confirmation, again with sacred chrism. The priest anoints our head with oil in the sign of the cross whenever we celebrate the Sacrament of the Sick.
Can we even begin to count the numbers of times we sign ourselves at other times of prayer? The beginning of each mass and at the final blessing, at every liturgy or prayer service, whenever we pray, at the proclamation of the Gospel - so, so many times.
But sometimes it seems as though the wind has swept the cross away from our minds. Suffering in our lives or the lives of those we love is so hard to accept and often seems unfair. In today's Gospel, Jesus admonishes us: take up your cross and follow me. He doesn't promise a sweetheart deal up front, with the tough part of discipleship revealed later. The cross, there it is!We know, even at the beginning of Lent, that the cross leads to resurrection, so it is not with a sense of gloom or despair that we embrace the cross and follow Christ on his journey to eternal life.
Salvific suffering, suffering which saves, can only be endured by Jesus, but in uniting our sufferings with His, our suffering can be transformed. Contemporary theologians and preachers have a challenge before them in explaining this; it's not an easy message in today's world. One of the best places to begin reflection on this mystery is Pope John Paul II's encyclical, Salvifici Doloris. It makes wonderful spiritual reading anytime, but especially at the beginning of Lent.
Here's an interesting photo of yesterday's Palm Burning
(postponed from Tuesday because of the weather.)
The centuries old Lenten traditions of prayer, fasting and almsgiving are prudent practices during Lent. They emphasize a balanced perspective on self-denial and penance and doing good for others. Somehow the idea took hold in the Church that you don't "give up" anything for Lent, you "do something good" for someone. I suppose one out of the three isn't bad, but why not do all three? There seems to be a recent return to penitential practices as we acknowledge their benefit and avoid excessive or overly scrupulous ones.
In the "do something for others" category, how about this: we all know someone who has stopped attending mass. Why not encourage them to go to church during Lent, perhaps invite them along with you. Just think of all the people who will attend mass on Easter day only, and perhaps not again until Christmas. The positive impact your invitation and encouragement can have might be the most important evangelization you ever do.
Think about it, pray about it, then invite someone to mass.