Welcome to the Third Sunday of Lent. I pray your Lenten disciplines are drawing you closer to the Sacred Heart of Our Lord. Today, I am happy to share with you a guest post from fellow writer and friend, John Church. If you enjoyed John’s writing, please visit his blog at the link below. I know you will be blessed.
Marian Devotion: A Testimony
[Firstly I’d like to thank Sarah for being so gracious as to put my writing on her blog; I am honored. I am also honored to talk about Our Lady. I hope it is of benefit to anyone who reads it.]
Hi everyone! In case you didn’t know, Lent begins on Wednesday, February 14th, 2018. This year, I will abstain from social media and blogging. This will be my last regular post before the Lenten season begins. I wanted to let you know, not because I am seeking outward affirmation, but because I connect with so many of you on social media. I don’t want you to mistake my temporary absence for ignoring your comments and messages. On Sundays, days when fasts are relaxed, I will check in to my blog and maybe even write a short post. The same goes for any social media accounts. Thank you for your support! – Sarah
I love rules. I believe rules offer us an ordered and polite society. Rules are like the high fence on the side of a cliff that keep you from falling off of the side. You can run, skip, and hop within the confines of the fence because you know you won’t topple to your death. There’s freedom in restraint.
So, when Lent rolls around, I become giddy with excitement…and dread. I like the idea of Lent on paper: abstaining from something good in order to grow in Christ. What’s not to like? I’ll tell you what: abstaining. I’m all about the rules of Lent: fasting on Monday through Saturday (Sunday, too, if you’re a hardcore Catholic) and no meat on Fridays (except Filet-O-Fish in the drive-thru). Do you know why I’m all about Lent until it’s time to actually do Lent?
Because I make up too many rules for myself.
Holy Mother Church isn’t a tyrannical rule creator out to micromanage every bit of your life like many believe. I’ve heard it said this way, “The Church is like our mother, in that she just wants to know what you’re doing and wants to make sure you’re well.”
That’s why the Church gives us guidelines for fasting: people ages 18-59 are required to fast during Lent, with Fridays as a day of abstinence. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, we are to fast and abstain: one regular meal or two meals that do not equal a full meal. Of course, this excludes women who are pregnant and nursing, young children, the sick, and the elderly. We are all given the same guidelines with reasonable exceptions. Moms are understanding.
How to be Charitable
But, if you’re like me, you think you have to go above and beyond the guidelines set for you. In the past, I equated how severe my fasting was with the effectiveness and holiness of my Lenten season. But, through severity, I often found that I was often doing more damage than good. That’s why it’s so important to practice our Lenten fasts with charity. Here are a few ways you can practice charity and fasting during Lent without driving yourself nuts.
Follow the Rules: Fast on Monday through Saturday and abstain from meat on Fridays. Anything else is a bonus. Unless you feel convicted by Our Lord to abstain on Sunday, remember that it’s not a fast day. It’s the Lord’s Day! In Matthew 9:15, Jesus asks, “How can they fast as long as the bridegroom is with them?” Rejoice in the day set aside for the worship of God.
Be Reasonable: Be reasonable in your Lenten commitments. If you have to use your phone frequently for work, maybe it’s not a good idea to give up using it. Or, if you have a health condition that requires an increased protein intake, maybe you don’t need to give up meat (or maybe you can substitute with fish). Find what works for you and go from there. In my experience, when I ask what I need to abstain from, God always answers that prayer.
Understand Others: Perhaps one of the best teachings I heard on Lent was years ago during my college years. This individual, a non-Catholic from a liturgical tradition, recommended that our fasts should be as private as possible as to avoid becoming like the Pharisees and hypocrites Jesus warned us about (Matthew 6:16). For example, if on Friday your non-Catholic co-worker invites you to a burger joint for dinner, it may be in your best interest to go. That interaction may open his or her eyes to the beauty of Catholicism. As the old saying goes: You may be the only Bible that person reads. I’m not saying for you to throw out your fast at every invitation or opportunity, but be understanding. It’s not necessary to say with a loud, pious voice: OH NO I CANNOT PARTAKE OF THIS BEEF AS IT IS FRIDAY AND I AM A DEVOUT ROMAN CATHOLIC WHO IS FASTING SO NO WAY PLEASE STEP ASIDE. Other tips include suggesting a seafood restaurant or choosing a vegetarian option.
I’m not a professional theologian, but I do know that our God is a merciful God. This Lent, you will probably mess it up. You’ll cave into the coffee craving or you’ll sneak a peek at your Facebook timeline. Been there, done that. Remember, learn from my experience, and don’t create extra regulations for yourself. Be charitable to everyone, even you. Listen to the Church and Our Lord, and you’ll find yourself headed in the right direction. I pray you have a very blessed Lent and I look forward to chatting with you on Sundays during Lent and after Easter!
I have met many Catholics who have said, “I want to know more about the Faith, but I just don’t know where to start.” Or, “I’ve read the Catechism a few times, but I still can’t sort a lot of it out.” Even though I attended and went through a fantastic RCIA program that taught me quite a bit about Catholicism, there are still odds-and-ends questions about the faith I’ve had over the course of this year. And sometimes, when a Google search doesn’t quite cut it, you need a live person to help you sort out any questions you might have.
This is where Twitter steps in.
I’m a frequent Twitter user, and I believe it’s no accident that I encountered Larry Ford, AKA “Joe Sixpack,” a self-proclaimed “every Catholic guy” who just happens to be a Marian Apologist, author, and creator of the What We Believe…Why We Believe Itbulletin insert series. Like so many of us, Larry is a covert to the Faith and he has a passion for sharing it with others. However, Larry’s work is not only confined to Twitter. He uses his own apostolate,Joe Sixpack Answers, to evangelize anyone who will read or listen about Catholic teachings.
A Digital Outreach
In a increasingly secular society where up to 80% of Catholics deny the reality of hell around 75% deny the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, effective evangelization is needful. In my personal experience, Catholic evangelization is often non-existent or it’s weighed down with terms and phrases that complicate already complex doctrines.
As an “every Catholic guy,” Larry’s Joe Sixpack Answers helps eliminate many of the barriers to Catholic evangelization. The most important part of Larry’s work, I believe, is that he makes Catholic teaching accessible to anyone while remaining faithful to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.
Two Tools for the Sixpack Catholic
One service provided by Joe Sixpack Answers is free webinars each Sunday afternoon. For the past four weeks, I’ve attended each webinar live or I’ve watched the replay on Larry’s YouTube channel. The webinars have ranged from the use of sacramentals by the faithful to the proof of the existence of God. As previously stated, the teachings of the Church are presented in an easy-to-understand, but not watered-down, format. In the event that you reach the end of the webinar, Larry takes and answers anonymous questions. He also answers email after any webinar (and responds quickly!).
It’s also helpful to add that Larry is not just a random guy on the Internet, posting what he thinks the Catholic Church teaches. Rather, he is affiliated with the Marian Catechist Apostolate, an organization under the supervision of Cardinal Burke.
How Can I Help?
Evangelization is tough. It’s even more daunting to think about starting to evangelize your friends and family for Christ. I believe that the first step to effective evangelization is to know what you believe. While many of us, myself included, think we know it all – odds are, we haven’t scratched the surface. It’s important, that when asked, we have an answer to those inquiring about our faith. Joe Sixpack Answers is an excellent resource to help you get started on a path to not only knowing more about Catholicism, but sharing it with your friends and family. Let’s get back to basics!
You can learn more about Joe Sixpack Answers by clicking here.
Thanks for reading today! Soon, Ash Wednesday and Lent will be upon us. While I will take time off from social media and this blog during Lent, I will begin work on a new e-book project. The theme will focus on Seven Sorrows of Mary. If you have a story about how the life of Mary has helped you draw closer to Jesus, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I may use your quote in my project. God bless!
Today I am very grateful to have fellow blogger Katie Hendrick as a guest writer. She has reviewed many great titles about our Blessed Mother, which will make for perfect reading this Lent. You can visit Katie at her blog Stumbling Toward Sainthood.
Despite being a “cradle Catholic,” my relationship with Mary is pretty weak. Being the bookworm that I am, I decided to start reading more books about the Blessed Mother (as well as introducing some Marian prayers into my life). In doing this, I have found three books that can help anyone connect with Mary as Christ made clear we are to do.
Mary by Tim Staples
What It’s About: Staples provides “biblical evidence for Marian doctrine and devotion, answers common objections to Catholic teachings, and guidance on how to imitate Christ – which we should do in all things – by loving and honoring his mother.”
The Good: This book draws from a number of different resources (Scripture, Early Church, etc.) and covers a wide array of the common misconceptions about Mary. I also felt what made this book especially beneficial to readers was Tim Staples’ perspective as a Catholic convert. Because he came from a Fundamentalist background, he was able to address the concerns about Mary more effectively than someone who always felt close to Mary.
The Opportunities for Improvement: The only thing I didn’t like about this book was some of the Bible verses got repetitive. Though they were still relevant, I think a simple verse reference would have sufficed.
Why You should Read it: If you want to grow closer to Mary, I think you first need to get rid of all the misconceptions surrounding her. There is so much misinformation surrounding the practice of honoring to Mary, and this book provides clear responses to correct this. If you start turning to Mary with uncertainty or fear fueled by misconceptions, it will be a much more difficult road. Starting by learning will make the path smoother, so this book is a great place to start.
Mary: Help in Hard Times by Marianne Lorraine Trouve
What It’s About: “No matter what challenges we may face in life, Mary is always there to help us….Let the prayers and real-life stories of how others have experienced Mary’s intercession open your heart to the care she can provide for you.”
The Good: This is probably the second best book on Mary I have read (only overshadowed by the last book I will recommend). It starts by addressing who Mary is, moves into people’s experiences with the Blessed Mother, and concludes with different practices to connect with Mary. I thought the level of detail was fantastic, and this book was very encouraging.
The Opportunities for Improvement: This is such a small criticism, but I did not like the Bible translation they used for The Annunciation because the explanation of it referenced a different translation.
Why You should Read it: If you only want to read one book on Mary, this is the book to pick; it is a good blend of apologetics and devotions. This book was also very practical. For example, when discussing the personal experiences people had with Mary, it didn’t lean heavily on miracles; instead, it focused on how dedicated prayer brought about fruit. It’s also a great starting point for Marian prayer if you have no idea where to start.
Praying the Rosary Like Never Before by Edward Sri
What It’s About: “Do you struggle with praying the rosary: finding time, fighting distractions, worrying about your mind wandering? In Praying the Rosary Like Never Before, Edward Sri offers practical suggestions that come from the rosary’s tradition and, most especially, St. John Paul II. These helpful tips will make the rosary a constant companions through the different seasons, moments, and challenges we all face. These tips serve as easy on-ramps for those who don’t pray the rosary regularly motivate avid devotees of the rosary to go deeper with the Lord.” In the interest of transparency, I want to make it clear that I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.
The Good: This book was very intelligently written without being intimidating. Whether you and Mary are BFFs or you just got past the “Catholics worship Mary” falsity, you can find growth from this book. Though the beginning of the book was solid with its blend of apologetics and history, what really made this book special was the beautiful rosary meditations. If you think that the rosary is boring, these beautiful mediations will change your mind. If you fear that the rosary focuses too much on Mary, the explanations of the mystery in the context of Scripture and Christ’s salvific plan will also change your mind. This was my favorite book from 2017.
The Opportunities for Improvement: This is an even smaller criticism than before, but there was one graphic in the book that was blurry. I really had to dig to find something wrong with it.
Why You should Read it: This book is just beautiful. It’s hard to articulate how much I loved it. The rosary seems like an outdated prayer, but this book shines the spotlight this amazing spiritual practice. It’s hard to read this book and not feel some kind of change.
Getting to know Mary can be intimidating, but these books lay some groundwork. Mary gives you the most basic information you need about our Blessed Mother. Mary: Help in Hard Times reassures you of her love for her children and gives some steps for growing closer to her. Praying the Rosary Like Never Before will lead you to fall in love with this incredible prayer. Though there are many great books about Mary out there, you can’t go wrong with starting with these three.
Kate Hendrick lives in Wisconsin with her husband and two cats. She works as an engineer full-time. Kate writes on her blog, Stumbling Toward Sainthood, which discusses the challenges we face as we strive to live authentically Catholic lives. When Kate isn’t sharing her love for Christ and His Church online, you can find her reading, crocheting, or playing nerdy board games with her friends. You can also find Kate on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.
Growing up in rural Kentucky, there wasn’t a whole lot going on. On Sundays, the pace of an already slow world nearly came to an absolute stop: we went to church, ate lunch, and then took naps. That was my Sunday schedule for the better part of the first eighteen years of my life.
What irked me, though, was a precept my parents held for Sundays: no shopping, no going out to eat, no spending money. This wasn’t a hard and fast rule, but 90% of the time, it held up (unless our proverbial ox was in a proverbial ditch). And I HATED it. When everyone else was going out on Sunday afternoons, having lots of fun that I wasn’t having, I was stuck at home, looking at four walls. On the rare occasion that we did have to make a Walmart run or out to a restaurant, I felt like I was finally liberated into proper society.
Growing in Wisdom
Now, that I’m much older, I understand why my parents were so serious about Sunday rest. The seventh day (our Sunday) was set aside by God as a day of rest from the very beginning. After laboring over creation for six days, God takes the seventh day, and makes it holy (Genesis 2:2). Even God, creator of all that we can fathom, took the time to rest. Yet, my younger self saw no need in rest when there was a perfectly open day to fill with activities. I failed to see that if God rested, and even commanded it to the Israelites, that I certainly was not exempt.
But, to paraphrase St. Paul: When I was a child, I thought and acted like a child. Literally.
As an adult, I too often see the empty parts of my schedule quickly filled to capacity. As they say, nature abhors a vacuum. If I’m totally open during one evening of the week, you can bet that by the time that day rolls around, I have some type of commitment in my schedule.
Sundays, too often, aren’t much different.
Near the end of Mass each Sunday, I’m often thinking about my grocery run to Walmart. Not only the groceries but, How can I get a good parking space close to the door? Did I remember my coupons? Should I get my hair trimmed? Should I grab a bite to eat before heading back home? All of this is going through my mind before the announcements have ended. I’m sure you’ve been in a similar situation, your mind thinking of everything but the miracle of the Mass. You’re definitely not alone.
In the midst of our rushed society, it seems so difficult to turn off. We’ve gone from laws in place banning any business on Sunday to it as just another day of the week. I remember, before my brother was born, my mom used to work part-time at a Walmart in the next county over. On Sundays, the store would open at 1:00 PM. Yet, as time went on, the time became earlier and earlier. If it wasn’t 1:00 PM, it was noon. Noon soon faded to 10:30, and 10:30 faded into 24/7/365. This was in 1995.
Perhaps one of my favorite stories from my mom’s Walmart days is one I’ll call “You’re Going to Hell.” On a rare occasion, my mom would have to work at the store on Sunday afternoons for a few hours. This day, my mom was approached a young boy who informed her that “my daddy is a preacher.” Well enough.
What happens next, though, has gone down into clapback history.
The little boy proceeds to tell my mom, “My daddy says you’re going to hell because you’re working on Sunday.”
My mother, not one to be schooled by a child, immediately responds with “Well, if your mom and dad weren’t out shopping today, I wouldn’t have to work.”
The Sunday Revolution: A Brief How-To Guide
My mom’s story is in possession of a truth nugget: If we keep Sunday holy, we allow other people to keep it holy as well. In the words of St. Mother Teresa, we must “live simply so others may simply live.” Even more, the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds the faithful to avoid any unnecessary work on Sundays, especially if it hinders the worship of Our Lord (CCC 2184-2186).
Often, as I stand in the checkout line at the supermarket, I wonder how many people were unable to attend worship services due to my choice to shop for groceries on Sunday. Sure, I’m only one person. But, one person plus one person after time can add up to a society that disregards the holiness of Sundays. And as I write this, I am speaking to myself as much as I am you, my attentive reader.
I am not asking you to immediately forego your weekly family lunch at Cracker Barrel, nor am I seeking to induce guilt because you have to run into the local Save-a-Lot for a gallon of milk. Rather, I am asking all of us to change the way we think about Sundays.
Shop for groceries on Saturday or another weekday.
Host a meal at your home, as opposed to a restaurant.
Block out a segment of time on Sunday afternoons solely for rest: don’t engage in any weekday-related work. Just rest.
I firmly believe that once we change our thoughts about Sundays, ultimately, our behaviors will change. I challenge you, next Sunday, to engage the quiet holiness of the day. Make one tiny change this week, and then next week, make another tiny change. You and I may be surprised at the differences we can make in not only our lives, but the lives of others.
May God bless you as you engage in the Sunday revolution.
I’m not a mom yet, but it’s obvious to me that it’s tough to raise your kids as faithful Catholics. It’s even more difficult in our secular society to keep them Catholic once they venture into the world. While there’s no shortage of negative media vying for your child(ren)’s attention, thankfully, there are many wholesome (and fun!) resources to introduce your child to the Catholic faith.
As we approach the middle of February, Catholics anticipate a season of penance 40 days before Easter called Lent. Lent is often a confusing time for kids: there’s ashes on foreheads, a sudden giving up of favorite treats or activities, and no meat on Fridays. For younger children, and even pre-teens, Lent may seem more like a drag than a time of spiritual growth. An online friend, Aleesa Bansmer McCarthy, is a creative soul who is dedicated to helping your child understand the ins-and-outs of our beautiful faith through interactive activities. This year, Aleesa has introduced the Lent 2018 Activity Pack, designed especially for your little ones!
A Review of the Lent 2018 Activity Pack
The first aspect of the activity pack I love is that it stays true to the penitential and sacrificial nature of Lent, while still engaging small children. Aleesa maintains the color scheme of purple, the liturgical color for Lent, into all of the pages of the pack. This is a great way for kid to connect the colors they see at Mass to the activities in the pack.
One of my favorite activities is a “calendar” with 40 boxes. In each box, depending on the day, there is an outline of a fish (a day for fasting) or the name of the day (Palm Sunday, Holy Saturday). Throughout Lent, kids can mark off the days, and count down to Easter. Along the way, they are reminded to fast and pray for others.
Be My Lenten Valentine
Children can also start off Lent (which begins on February 14th!) by giving away custom Valentines included in the pack. Featuring an drawn image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Aleesa’s valentines are a perfect way to counter a society that has largely secularized an originally Catholic holiday. What better way to evangelize friends and family than with the Sacred Heart? The design above is one of two designs available in the Lent Pack.
A Chain of Giving
Finally, an aspect of Lent that is often overlooked is the giving of alms to the poor and needy. Too often, we focus on our own personal fasts from chocolate, technology, or gossip instead of what we can do for others. With the Alms Chain activity, kids are given strips of card stock. Each time a child completes an act of mercy for the poor, she can link her chains together, creating a ribbon of mercy. It’s a great way to show your children that little acts of kindness add up!
At only $5 on Aleesa’s Etsy shop, SaongJai, the 2018 Lent Pack is a highly recommended purchase. If you want your children to know why Lent is important for holy living, this pack is a great resource to help make the season “real” for your little ones. While I only reviewed three of the features of the Lent Pack, there are so many more: Lunch reminders not to eat meat, coloring pages of holy images, the Stations of the Cross worksheet, and a spot for your child to record her prayer intentions. The pack is a great way to introduce the joy of liturgical living in a fun and educational format.
To learn more about Aleesa’s creative work, visit her on Facebook and on Etsy.
This is the fourth, and final, installment in a series on the mysteries of the Rosary. You can click the following links to read meditations on the Glorious, Joyful, and Luminous mysteries.
On Tuesdays and Fridays, Catholics around the world pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. These mysteries follow the events in the life of Jesus from Holy Thursday to Good Friday. With the Sorrowful Mysteries, we ponder not only the life of Jesus, but also His divine suffering. The Sorrowful Mysteries teach us, contrary to modern culture, that suffering is intricately part of life and cannot be avoided – even Jesus was not immune to life’s hardships.
The Sorrowful Mysteries
The Agony in the Garden: Before His arrest, Jesus goes with His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane. There, Jesus reveals that He is sorrowful and begs God to “let this cup pass from Me.” Jesus’ disciples fall asleep as He prays and sweats drops of blood, but nevertheless, Jesus says “not My will, but Yours be done.” Though Jesus was fully God and fully man, He was not immune from distress. In the Gospels, Jesus wants to avoid His impending crucifixion, but instead, He submits to the holy will of God. How often do we accept the will of God, even if it is contrary to our own desires? How far will we follow Jesus? Are we brave enough to say each day, “not my will, but Yours be done?” Prayer: Dear God, give me the bravery to always say yes to You, even when my will is weak.
The Scourging at the Pillar: After false accusations are directed towards Him, Jesus is handed over to be scourged. According to historians, scourging was a terrible event: the person was often bent over a single pillar and beat with a whip, which often had pieces of metal or bone on the ends of leather strips. For us, like a lamb, Jesus submitted to this heinous punishment. For our sins, sins He had not committed, He was lashed. When meditating upon the scourging, think about how we treat others. Do we often treat others poorly? Do we ignore those who we believe are not worthy of our attention? How can we better understand that each time we hurt another person, it pierces the heart of Christ? Prayer: Lord Jesus, forgive me for when I’ve hurt others, which hurts You. Help me to understand the love You have for me, which led you to endure scourging.
The Crowning of Thorns: Jesus is asked if He is a King, and He replies that His kingdom is “not of this world” (John 18:36). In order to mock Jesus, His captors form a crown of thorns and press it upon His head. It was not enough for the soldiers to scourge Jesus, but now, they must submit Him cruel humiliation. As Christians, we are often mocked for our beliefs. Though we may not be crowned with thorns, we sometimes must bear to consequences of not conforming to the world. Like Jesus, do we know that our home is not of this earth? How can we lovingly bear persecutions, minor and major, in our daily lives? Would you willingly bear a “crown” for Jesus? Prayer: Dearest Jesus, give me the grace to understand that this world is not my eternal home.
The Carrying of the Cross: After the scourging and crowning of thorns, Jesus is forced to carry His cross to the site of His crucifixion. Already weakened by blood loss and physical injuries, Jesus appears wearied. Simon of Cyrene is asked to carry the cross, assisting Jesus as He makes His way to Calvary. While some scholars suggest that Simon was chosen to carry the cross because he was sympathetic to Jesus, others say that Simon was forced to carry the cross by the soliders. Regardless of his motivation, the act of Simon is a witness to us today. Do we help others who are bearing harsh trials? Or, do we shy away from consoling the pain of others? How can you help carry the cross of another, and in a way, help Jesus carry His? Prayer: Lord, life is very difficult. I want to help others in their trials. Give me the courage to keep walking down an unknown path.
The Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross and is left to die. Despite the experience of torture and extreme pain at the hands of mortal men, Jesus asks His Father to forgive those who hurt and tortured Him because “they know not what they do.” While on the cross, we see Jesus’ humanity on display. He says “I thirst” and wonders aloud why God has forsaken Him. Even among the pain and jeers from the crowd, Jesus instructs John to look after His mother. After hours of agony, Jesus declares “it is finished” and dies. In our lives, how often do we forgive others who have wronged us? Do we freely offer our mercy and compassion, or do we withhold it? When we feel as if God has abandoned us, how can we cling to hope? How can you die to self each and every day? Prayer: Dear Jesus, I want to die to myself each day. Only with your help, can I do this. May I always run to You.
May God bless you as you pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary.