I hope your week is off to a great start. Just a reminder that this is the last full week before Lent begins. The US Catholic Bishops have a short Q&A on Lent on their web site (click here). You'll find more information on Lent and Ash Wednesday below. For now, here is this week's schedule.
- TUESDAY (Today)
- Adoration in the chapel from noon till 12:30.
- Community Table volunteer service from 3:30-6:00. (Meet at CCM by 3:15 for a ride).
- WEDNESDAY (Tomorrow)
- Evening Prayer in the chapel at 6:00pm.
- Supper @ the Center is served at 6:30. This week we are serving chicken and potato salad. Our program after dinner will be on "Films and Faith." We'll explore religious and ethical themes found on many popular movies today.
- Adoration in the chapel from noon till 12:30.
- Small Group scripture study from 5:30-6:30 on the 2nd floor of the UC. All are welcome - bring a friend!
- Simply Stitched meets at CCM from 8:00-9:30ish to knit and crochet items for charity. If you don't know how, we'll teach you!
- Give Your Heart Away is this weekend! If you signed up to go on this service weekend with us, make sure you have paid your registration fee and checked your email for a message from me about our departure time Friday afternoon.
- Confession/Rosary at 3:30pm
- Mass at 4:00pm
- Credo discussion after Mass until 6:30. The topic for our discussion this week will be "Sexual Morality." Come with your questions!
- NEXT MONDAY
- Small Group scripture study meets from 6:00 to 7:00pm in Balsam Lobby.
- NEXT WEDNESDAY
- Ash Wednesday: We will have a Liturgy of the Word with distribution of blessed ashes at 12:30 in the chapel. There will also be Masses at St. Mary's at 9:00am, 6:00pm, and 8:00pm (in Spanish).
As mentioned above, next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, which is the official start of the Lenten season. Lent is a penitential season in the Church, which means it is a time when we collectively remind ourselves that Christ suffered on the cross to redeem us from our sins. Our proper response to that is to repent of our sins, pick up our own cross, and follow Him. Lent has traditionally been marked by an increase of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. In his Lenten message for 2015, Pope Francis encourages us to be "merciful, attentive, and generous." We should be merciful in our relations with others, attentive to the Lenten call for prayer, and generous with our own time, treasure and talents.
During the weeks of Lent, I will be suggesting ways in which you can participate in the call to pray, fast and give. This week before Lent begins, I want to begin with a few thoughts on fasting to help us prepare in advance. What is required and what is recommended?
The Church actually requires very little of us in the way of fasting. There are only two days that Catholics are obliged to fast: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. On fasting days, Catholics are permitted to eat one full meal, and may take up to two small snacks which together don't add up to one full meal. Liquids don't count as breaking the fast. For example, you could have a banana or yogurt in the morning to get you going, have a granola bar in the afternoon to sustain your strength, and enjoy a regular meal in the evening. Since liquids don't count, you can have as much water, milk, coffee, etc as you like. And use your common sense. If your daily activities are very physical and require a lot of calories, or if you are diabetic or have other medical concerns, don't do anything that is going to negatively impact your health. The Church does not want you passing out! On the other hand, you do want to make it sacrificial. If you are a relatively healthy young person, maybe you don't need that little snack in the afternoon. Maybe you can offer up your hunger pains for the good of your soul, or for the benefit of others. Use discernment and common sense. Remember, too, that Ash Wednesday and every Friday during Lent are also days of abstinence, which means no meat. For fasting purposes, the Church only counts the meat of warm blooded animals, so fish, reptiles, etc are permissible (good to keep in mind if the dining hall starts serving alligator).
Most Catholics also choose additional ways to fast during Lent. Usually this involves giving up food items, but not always. This is strictly up to you, and self imposed. So you can give up all sweets for Lent, or maybe just chocolate. I have known people to give up all beverages except for water. One traditional practice is to give up meat. The trick is to avoid having Lent becoming a diet plan. If you want to start a healthy diet, then start a healthy diet. That's good! But that's not what Lent is about. Your Lenten sacrifice should be about doing penance and building discipline, the point of which is to help us avoid sin and turn toward Christ. We discipline ourselves to say "no" to something we enjoy (like chocolate or coffee) so that when we are faced with sinful temptation, we can be stronger in our ability to resist it. Meanwhile, the suffering we endure while building that discipline can be offered to Christ in reparation for our sins and/or the sins of others. That means that we pray when we fast. In the Church, fasting is always accompanied by prayer to ensure that our discipline does us spiritual good.
This week, think about what you can sacrifice this Lent. What can you give up that will be a true sacrifice for you, but not an overwhelming burden? Remember the point is not to beat yourself up. This is a self-imposed sacrifice and you don't want to take on something too difficult which will only lead to failure and frustration. For example, I wouldn't recommend going on bread and water all Lent without some serious consultation with a spiritual director (and a nutritionist)! But maybe you can give up lunch two days a week and instead spend that time in prayer. Maybe you can give up your daily Starbucks and instead give that money to someone in need, or a local charity.
Your sacrifice does not need to involve food. Think of other things in your life that you are allowing to have too high a place. Perhaps you can give up make-up, Facebook, or limit your texting or video game time. Ask a friend to make a Lenten fast with you, so you can support one another. But remember to accompany your fast with prayer, or it will not be as effective. Next week, we will discuss different ways to increase your prayer life this Lent.