Selected Text from the February 2018 issue of The Catholic Islander
The Magazine of the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands
Most Rev. Herbert Bevard - PUBLISHER
Timothy and Shelby Olive - EDITORS
Mary Kay McPartlin - MANAGING EDITOR
Brother James Petrait, OSFS - WEBMASTER
Msgr. Michael Kosak - PROOFREADING, Advantage Editing
Deacon Emith Fludd- CIRCULATION
Jenny Bis - GRAPHIC DESIGNER
Click on the links or scroll below for the text from the following articles from the February 2018 issue of The Catholic Islander:
About the picture on the cover : Sebechleby: The prayer of Jesus in the Gethsemane garden, printed image from the end of 19th century, originally by painter with the nickname " Lindberg.”/GETTYIMAGES
Camille Paul, St. Joseph High School class of 2006, graduated from Barry University’s Physician Assistant Program despite Hurricane Maria’s challenges.
Camille Paul, a St. Joseph High School alumna of the class of 2006, graduated from the Barry University’s Physician Assistant (PA) Program in Miami, Fla., on Dec. 9, 2017, despite being displaced from her St. Croix campus by Hurricane Maria.
Before Hurricane Maria ravaged St. Croix, Barry University made resources available to evacuate their St. Croix students and staff to their Florida campuses, but some students remained behind to weather the storm, including Paul. With little power and communication to continue her studies, she was able to leave the island 10 days after the storm on a mercy cruise to complete the final leg of the program.
Paul, who knew she wanted to work in health care from a young age, said it was a comforting experience being able to study at home after years of studying and working in the States. Moreover, interacting with her local community through the PA Program made the experience even more special.
“A major part of our education is interacting with real patients during clinical rotations out in the field, and that field was essentially my back yard and the patients were people from my community — a good bit of whom I knew personally,” Paul said. “This made the experience even more personal and rewarding because my patients were always so excited to hear that I was from St. Croix and were extremely willing to play their part in my learning experience.”
Paul was honored at the graduation ceremony by being inducted into Pi Alpha -the National Honor Society for physician Assistants. The award signifies her significant academic achievement and honors her for leadership, research, community/professional service and other related activities, according to the organization’s website.
“I want to be able to strengthen my community’s health care system and care for individuals with whom I share a connection,” Paul said. “Completing the program has opened a major door for me and I am excited to enter this new chapter.”
Paul graduated from Vassar College in 2010 with a degree in neuroscience and behavior. After Vassar College, she worked at Joslin Diabetes Center, a teaching and research affiliate of Harvard Medical School, in Boston as a clinical research assistant from 2010 to 2012. She then moved on to work as a clinical research coordinator in the Department of Medicine at the University of Maryland in Baltimore. She specifically worked within the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Nutrition from 2012 to 2013. Paul then went on to a master’s of public health degree from George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health.
by Brother James Petrait, OSFS
40 Days of Lent
HISTORY OF LENT: WHAT DID FASTING USED TO LOOK LIKE?
The Lenten season, preparation for Easter, has been observed from the onset of the Church, although there have been Inconsistencies with duration and practices. The Council of Nicea, 325 AD, established Easter's fluid date as the Sunday following the first full moon of the vernal equinox. In 461 AD, Pope $t. Leo established the duration os 40 consecutive days before Easter. Pope Gregory the Great, in the sixth century, added the dispensing of ashes the preceding Wednesday (Ash Wednesday), making Lent 46 days. Sundays were considered feast days and not included in the count.
Initially, all forms of meat, fish and animal products were excluded for the entirety of Lent. People were allowed one meal per day, after 3 p.m. In the 1400s, that time was revised to noon. Eventually, a small snack was Included to sustain energy. Over time, fish, meat and dairy products were allowed. However, fasting was required all 40 days. It wasn't until 1966 that fast days were lessened to Ash Wednesday and Good Friday only.
WHY DO WE HAVE PENITENTIAL SEASONS? Jesus gave the example of a penitential retreat, spending prayerful time in the desert preparing for his ministry, reflecting on God's will and determining how he'd freely make that happen. Penitential seasons offer us this same opportunity: to withdraw from our routines and evaluate our spiritual progress or regression. We do this through reflection and repentance, which enable us to Identify our weaknesses and make reparation to amend our sinful ways. Penitential seasons create time to reflect on our need to make God the focal point of our lives. The result can be spiritually rewarding.
WHAT ARE THE CURRENT RULES FOR LENT? All Catholics, ages 14 and older, are bound by the law of abstinence. Abstinence means refraining from the consumption of meat (land animals) on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays of Lent. Why Friday? To unite ourselves with Jesus1 sacrifice, made for us on Good Friday.
All Catholics, ages 18-59, are to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Fasting Is defined as eating one full, meatless meal on prescribed days. Bits of food can be taken at other traditional meal times, though their combined total should not equal a full meal.
Penitential practices, like fasting and abstinence, are intended to refocus our thoughts and intentions toward God. Lent's 40 days include Ash Wednesday to Holy Thursday (the Lenten fast continues until Holy Saturday), not Including Sundays. Sundays are optional, but encouraged. For health reasons, the Infirm, ill and pregnant or nursing mothers are exempt.
Three other Lenten disciplines are prayer (daily conversation with the Lord), fasting (from behaviors which detract from our relationship with God) and almsgiving (sharing our resources, ensuring the basic needs of human dignity).
WHY PURPLE? Colors powerfully convey unspoken messages and evoke emotions. Scriptural accounts share Jesus was robed in purple to mock his implied royalty as king of the Jews. The pain of his Passion and Crucifixion became associated with this color. Purple reminds us Lenten days are times of repentance and atonement, of acknowledging how our selfish desires continue to suppress and crucify the goodness of God today.
WHY DON't WE SING THE GLORIA OR SAY ALLELUIA DURING LENT? The Gloria is a joyful hymn of praise thanking God and recognizing Jesus as the lamb of God. The Alleluia is another exclamation of praise. While we literally know Jesus has risen and set us free, during Lent, we focus expectant anticipation on these events to come.
Lent is a time to revisit Old Testament events leading to Christ’s mission and the salvation of humanity. It’s a time of facing the human struggles impeding our own resurrection. Refraining from joyous hymns of exultation maintains Lent’s penitential mood.
WHY 40 DAYS? The number 40 has ecclesial significance: Moses spent 40 days on Mt. Sinai before receiving the Ten Commandments; Jesus spent 40 days in prayer and fasting prior to beginning his ministry. So, too, we spend 40 days preparing to do God’s work.
Love and Reverence
A Call to Action
Proverbs 31 tells us when one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls. Her husband, entrusting his heart to her, has an unfailing prize. I’ve certainly been given a great opportunity to reflect upon this reading. We have had recently a large number of funerals, particularly of happily married couples.
I think first of Tom and Tootsie Mercer. They lived in a beautiful marriage for more than 40 years. Tootsie had been ill for the past few years and her husband, Tom, remained faithful to her in sickness and in health. Day after day, week after week, in difficult moments and even as she approached death, he wouldn’t leave her. He continued to take care of her. Meanwhile, inside of Tom, his cancer was growing. Tom never shared this information with Tootsie. About two weeks after his wife died, he died. Tom took his marriage vow seriously and recognized this incredible love for his wife. He truly viewed her as worth everything, far beyond any goods.
Now, as remarkable as the testimony of the Mercers is, we have an additional three couples who have been married for 60 years. Frank and Marilyn Cavallaro were married for more than 61 years. Frank just died a few weeks ago. What’s amazing is that they came to my office for advice on marriage just six years ago. That means, at that time, they had been married for 55 years in total. While I may have a lot of information and experience on marriage, I remember thinking, “What can I share with them? They’ve been married for 55 years.” But, they weren’t looking for what I could share, they were looking for what the Catholic Church could share. What struck me was that, after 55 years of marriage, they were still willing to grow. They were willing to grow closer to each other and to grow closer to our Lord.
Marge and Dominic Fargo were married for 66 years. I was blessed to be able to go to a meeting with Dominic and Marge at hospice. Marge introduced me to the staff of hospice and informed them that I went to her church. It was very kind of her to allow me to go to her church and she was happy to tell the staff about it. The family and I sat with Dominic, who was struggling with the idea of admitting Marge to hospice. Dominic had been serving as the primary care-giver for Marge, who was suffering from dementia. Dominic said he had committed to taking care of Marge for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health. After 66 years, he didn’t want to be unfaithful to her. We recognized she needed more care than he could give. The only way we convinced him to accept Marge’s need for the hospice facility was when we told him that if he allowed the doctors and nurses to take care of her, he would then be able to date his wife again. He lit up like a Christmas tree. “I get to date her again?” “Yes, everyone will take care of everything else, you just get to date your wife again.”
“OK ... where do I sign?”
Just a few weeks ago. Gene Spengy died. Gene and her husband, Donald, were married for 68 years. Here’s the cool thing: As Donald sat at the funeral home, there was, off to the side, a beautiful picture in needle point of the Blessed Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child. Gene had made it in 1980 and it had taken a year of her life to make it. Two years ago, as Gene struggled, recovering from a stroke, she would become agitated and Donald, who was not Catholic, would comfort her. She would say to him, “I want to go home.” Donald would point to the picture of our Blessed Mother and her Son and say, “You are home. Look at Mary. Look at her holding the Christ Child.” Each time, Gene would be comforted.
These marriages lasted 40, 61, 66 and 68 years, respectively. In those families, they recognized that the wife was worth far more than any silver or pearls. As I read Proverbs 31,1 struggled, thinking when the Church puts the readings together that they try to reflect upon each other. Our paired reading, accompanying Proverbs 31, is from the Gospel of Matthew, 25:14-30. Jesus tells the parable of the man going on a journey and leaving five talons, three talons and one talon with his servants for a year. Initially, I could not see a connection between these two readings.
But I prayed further. And I thought about the news from the last couple of weeks about the sexual harassment of women. Women have been mistreated in almost every area of our country, and from almost every walk of life. As I pondered on this mistreatment, I reflected upon the beautiful teachings of the Catholic Church lived out by these marriages. I realized that this year we need to share the truths of the Church, lived by example through committed, self-giving marriages like our couples. We need to share that the Catholic Church, regarding human relations and respect for men and women, has the truth on these teachings. What we need to do is to share those teachings of respect.
I believe that one of the reasons for the prevalent level of sexual harassment is because we are like the servant with one talon who buries it and doesn’t use it. The Church has these teachings on thedignity of life. We know these teachings on the respect for all life. Yet, we do not share these teachings. I reflected back upon my own gift from when I was preparing for the sacrament of marriage. I was reading a document called Humanae Vitae that was written by St. Paul VI in 1968 in reference to artificial contraception. What he gave was a warning to our society that if we abandon the teachings of the Church, this is what will happen.
“... The consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings - and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation - need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”
And then I reflected further on the nuptial blessing. This is one of the great gifts we receive as Catholics when we come to get married in the Church. The priest or the deacon blesses the couple and in this blessing grace is poured down upon them.
“Look now with favor on these your servants, joined together in Marriage, who ask to be strengthened by your blessing. Send down on them the grace of the Holy Spirit and pour your love into their hearts, that they may remain faithful in the Marriage covenant. May the grace of love and peace abide in your daughter (Name), and let her always follow the example of those holy women whose praises are sung in the Scriptures. May her husband entrust his heart to her, so that, acknowledging her as his equal and his joint heir to the life of grace, he may show her due honor and cherish her always with the love that Christ has for his Church.”
The two key words: from Humanae Vitae — reverence; and from the nuptial blessing — honor. So, I address specifically men, because it is up to us to truly ask ourselves: Do we love the women in our lives with reverence and honor? Those are the words the Church uses to describe how we are supposed to regard women. If we were truly doing this, I believe there would be hardly any news of sexual harassment in our country because we, as Catholics, would be transforming where we live. So I ask of all of us who are men: Are we following the Church’s teaching on contraception? Are we truly being the head of our families following the Church’s teachings. Are we making sure that we are truly installing reverence and honor in our families? Where does that start? For those of us who are gifted to be born as men, it starts from the very moment our life begins.
My hope is, when we come out of the womb, that we respect our mothers; that we take the Fourth Commandment very seriously. That, as we grow, we say yes and honor our mother always. As we get to the age of adolescence, that we as men truly honor womenwith reverence, guarding their chastity and their celibacy, making sure we do nothing that could hurt their purity. And then we enter into marriage. Do we thank God every day for the gift of our wife? Do we recognize how spoiled we are that God gave us a woman to love us, to abide with us, to put up with us?
And then when we’re gifted to become fathers: Do we make sure in our homes that it is never, never, ever OK for our children to disrespect their mothers? And if we happen to have daughters, as well, are our sons aware that in our homes they must show reverence and honor to their sisters and to their mother? That’s what we believe and if we, as fathers, are not saying that, then we need to make a commitment to live and act on the teachings of the Church.
I turn to those of you who are blessed to be women. Do you recognize your incredible calling? Do you recognize what the Church thinks of you? Do we recognize this gift of womanhood; the ability to bring forth life, to nurture, to love? I think of that moment of Donald Spengy, who’s not Catholic, yet provides the incredible insight, when his wife was struggling, of going to our Blessed Mother and saying, “You are home.” Do we recognize, those who are called to be women, that it is truly you who establish the home, who truly make the world better?
We have this Gospel reading about the talons given: the five, the two and the one. What is our Lord’s reaction to the one who only had one talon and buried it? Our Lord really sends him off to eternal damnation. We, for far too long, as Catholics, have been burying our talons. We have the truth about marriage. We have the truth about human sexuality. We have the truth about how you are supposed to treat women.
So, what am I asking of you? I’m asking us to start acting. And what I mean for those of us who are men, first: Treat the women in our lives with reverence and honor. Where you work or where you go to school, if there is someone not doing that, you tell them it is not right. For those who are struggling with pornography or for those of us with friends who are, we tell them, clearly, this is wrong. We never accept that about our wives, our sisters or our mothers — and we will not accept that about anyone else.
In regard to relationships between husbands and wives: Do we keep them pure and open to life as the Church teaches? Then, we are taking the talon and the Lord will reward us. And for those who are women, thanks be to God. Our Lord, as we celebrate at Christmas, came into the world because a woman said yes. A woman said yes to God. This woman kept her purity her entire life. Don’t settle for anything less. Your Church, the Church we belong to, is saying, “You are due reverence and honor.” Expect nothing less from the men in your life and homes.
There’s a lot of bad news out there, but you and I will walk with the Church and can make a difference. But if we bury that talon in the sand, nobody’s ever going to know. If we live it and hold others accountable to it, then you and I will start to see some real news come out. No matter what people tell you, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. We, as believers, are called to believe and act on our beliefs. Let us take the talons that we have and double them, and then triple them, and then quadruple them. Be not afraid to do so.
- This reflection was transcribed from Deacon David Galvin's homily on Nov. 19, 2017, at James the Greater Catholic Church in Charleston, W.V.
Journey of Faith
Experiencing Hurricanes Hugo and Maria
by Bro. James Petrait, O.S.F.S.
I miss the Catholic diocese of the U.S. Virgin Islands, but I also am very happy to be able to pursue my many interests during my retirement. Among them is continuing to be the webmaster for the USVI diocesan website and its related the Catholic Islander magazine and website - and also the websites for St. Joseph High School and Parish and several others.
While on St. Croix, I experienced the ravishes of the category 4 Hurricane Hugo starting on Sept. 17, 1989. I was in the basement of St. Ann’s rectory together with the pastor and future bishop, Father Elliott Thomas, and we experienced the thundering roar of the roof coming off the building in the late hours of the night. We said the rosary together while listening to the howling winds. We were able to see outside a little and witnessed the metal roofing material blowing around like large snowflakes and tried not to slip on the water that was leaking onto the floor. Then the power went out, followed by the phones. The calm eye of Hugo passed directly over us during the night and the winds started up to more than 140 mph again. In the morning, we woke up and were able to go outside and see the tremendous destruction that was done to the entire parish and we thanked God for life!
A few days later, with the help of Bishop Sean O’Malley, who had been staying in the rectory of St. Joseph Church on St. Croix, we were able to get St. Joseph High School up and running again in three weeks using some of the damaged buildings, the parish garage and buildings at other parishes. The damage was everywhere and 90 percent of all of the roofs of homes and other buildings blown away. The entire infrastructure of the island was almost wiped out. We were without power and communications for more than four months and it took almost five months for 10 temporary tents to be set up at the school to replace the damaged school buildings. The fiberglass tents were equipped with overhead fans and lights and that’s were I taught my science classes for almost two years. It took almost two more years until the school buildings were rebuilt. It was an enjoyable experience going into my new classroom building, where I taught for the last 26 years.
On St. Croix, the passing of the catastrophic Hurricane Maria started on Sept. 19, 2017. This was after St. Croix went through Hurricane Irma only a few days before during the afternoon of Sept. 6, 2017. Passing more to the north, it did not cause as much damage as it did on St. Thomas.
I was a safely in Toledo during both of these hurricanes, but I was able to re-experience my time with Hurricane Hugo on St. Croix during the late night of Sept. 19, 2017. I followed Hurricane Maria by looking at the barometric pressure go down as it was reported on the TV and internet and by observing the satellite and radar images of the hurricane as it approached St. Croix. Closely watching, while saying many rosaries, I saw the eye wall touch the west end of St. Croix at around 2 a.m. It was so strong that it caused immense destruction all over St. Croix, even though the eye of Maria never appeared to actually go over the island. As I wondered about the effects of Maria on St. Croix and prayed the rosaries, I felt that somehow my prayers where answered, as they always are. Prayer works - that’s for sure!
It took several days before I was able to get in touch with the diocese and was able to contact someone on St. Thomas. I called Msgr. Jerome Feudjio, the vicar general for the Diocese on St. Thomas, on his cell phone, which was hardly working. It was frustrating at times trying to get through. On St. Croix, I was also able to contact the pastor of St. Ann’s Parish, Father Louis Kemayou. During that time and the weeks after, I was able to place the pieces of the story together and post them on the diocesan website and make a connection with the outside world as to what happened to the diocese. Eventually, I was even able to make photo slide shows and to post videos about the hurricanes on the diocesan website. This enabled me to give the news of the hurricanes to the outside world and establish somecommunication with the diocese by posting Msgr. Jerome’s cell phone number online. If I was still on St. Croix, I would not have been able to do that.
I was fortunate not being on St. Croix during the hurricanes and was able to help the islands through the websites, which I would not have been able to do by being there. However, I wish I had been there and I almost felt that I was there re-living the experience of Hurricane Hugo and to be able to empathize with those going through these hurricanes.
Reconstruction is advancing in the diocese through the tireless efforts of Bishop Herbert Bevard and the priests, religious, parishioners - and with the help from the outside world. The Catholic Islander magazine was able to be posted online again after missing its October and November issues, and all is slowly returning to normalcy. There is still more to be done, though, and so much for which to be thankful.
- This article has been adapted from a speech that Brother James Petrait, OSFS was invited to give at a meeting of the Serra Club in Toledo on Dec.1, 2017. Serra Clubs promote Catholic vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
- Brother James Petrait, O.S.F.S is a member of the Toledo-Detroit Province of the religious congregation of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales. He retired to Toledo, Ohio, in August 2017 after teaching high school science for 55 years, with the last 29 years being spent at St. Joseph High School on St. Croix.
In the Know with Fr. Joe
by Father Joe Krupp
( Father Joe Krupp is a former comedy writer who is now a Catholic priest.)
Dear Fr. Joe:
Every year, Lent happens and I start off really hoping to make something of it. My intentions are the best, but it always seems like, the next thing I know, it's Easter and I’ve missed it. Can you help me do better this year?
I believe I can help you! Let’s start with an important point: You are struggling with something that I think most people do — the inability to “get it right,” no matter how good our intentions or plans. What do we do about that?
We’ll start with St. Paul. St. Paul wrote about three-quarters of the New Testament. He was the bridge God gave us between Greek culture and philosophy and Hebrew culture and religion. He is so important to our faith that he is sometimes called simply “The Apostle.”
Yet, even with all that, he, too, struggled. Let’s peek at this passage he wrote in the Book of Romans:
"What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I concur that the law is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh. The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. So, then, I discover the principle that when I want to do right, evil is at hand. For I take delight in the law of God, in my inner self, but I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind, taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore, I myself, with my mind, serve the law of God but, with my flesh, the law of sin." (Rom 7:15-25)
Isn’t that amazing? One of the greatest saints who ever lived ran into the same problem that you and I do, basically summed up in a simple phrase: I can’t get it right, no matter how hard I try, so I need to count on Jesus.
That’s the first step here: Dedicate your efforts to Christ this Lenten season. Pause right here and now, reading this, and ask God to help you have a great Lent. Pour out your heart to him, share your past frustrations and your current hopes. Ask him to be your strength so that you are not relying on something so questionable as our human willpower.
Now, for the second step: get to confession. To me, confession is one of those sacraments that we simply ignore at our peril. This is an opportunity to let Jesus “take the garbage out’’ and fill our empty spaces with his mercy, his love and his strength. If you are nervous and out of practice, let the priest know that. Tell him you are scared and haven’t done this in a while. Tell him why you are there. He’ll pray with you, grant you absolution and send you out the door ready to have a Christ-filled Lent.
The next step is about our attitude. We need to approach Lent with a mental attitude that we don’t get to define a “successful Lent.” Why do we do this? Because our idea of success is so much different than God’s. We tend to judge success by our performance and/or how we feel.
We cannot judge a “successful Lent” by our performance for a simple reason: that often can lead to pride, if we have a good performance, or discouragement, ifwe have a bad one. I imagine you’ve met people who seem to “get it right” most of the time: They know the rules, they live them well and seem to spend a lot of time focusing on how others aren’t performing as well as them. These people, in my experience, can be some of the angriest people around and they don’t model a behavior that is appealing. This is because they have limited the idea of holiness to performance. St. Paul wrote a lot about this. You and I stand with St. Paul and recognize that judging our “spiritual success” by performance leads to arrogance or giving up. Our goal is not to be dependable for God, it’s to grow in our awareness of our dependence on him.
We also need to recognize that we can’t judge our Lent as “successful” based on our feelings because, frankly, our feelings are wildly unreliable. Often, they will unintentionally tie us to the first problem: going on our performance.
So, we’ve prayed and dedicated our efforts to the Lord. We’ve gone to confession to let Christ “take the garbage out” and we’ve let Jesus purge us of the human means of judging our Lent. What do we do now?
We embrace the purpose and mission of Lent! We fast, we pray and we give alms.
Each of these activities is geared toward the heart of it all: We treat Lent as a spiritual boot camp where we push ourselves to renounce our affection for and allegiance to this world and deepen our understanding and commitment to Christ.
As Catholics, we fast. And during Lent, we take it up a notch in two ways. First, we abstain from meat on Fridays (put that as a repeating reminder in your calendar for every Friday in Lent — all caps: NO MEAT!).
Second, most of us fast from something during the entirety of Lent, except for Sundays. A good standard here is to choose something that you will miss, but don’t need. Hint: It doesn’t need to be food. You may fast from TV or Facebook. Every time you feel that hunger pang or that draw to eat what you have given up, pray that you will hunger for God like you hunger for it. Tell God, “I give you this suffering in sacrifice for my sins and the sins of the whole world.” That’s how we fast.
Importantly, ramp up your prayer life, both communally and is a former personally. If you don’t typically go comedy writer to a weekly Mass, make sure you do once a week during Lent. Make sure you get to confession at least once during the Lenten season. Mark those things on your calendar now so it doesn’t become a thing you do if you think about it. For personal prayer, get a daily prayer guide and use it each day. My favorite is the Magnificat. Almsgiving is caritas: love in action. This is when you and I pledge to be especially generous during Lent, to our Church, to the poor, to anyone God puts in our path. Check out your local Catholic Charities: They do amazing work and are always in need of financial assistance. In terms of your parish, consider giving more than you usually do each week. As a pastor of two parishes, I can promise you it will help! Each of these activities is geared toward the simple premise of Lent: We push ourselves to renounce our affection for and allegiance to this world and deepen our understanding and commitment to Christ. May God bless our Lenten season with holy dependence on him!
15 Minutes a Day
How do I make scripture a part of my daily life?
by Sister Ann Shields
(Sister Ann Shields is a renowned author and a member of the Servants of God’s Love.)
When I was a little girl of 6, I began 10 years of public school education. (No Catholic school was available until I was 16.) Each morning one of us would read from the Bible, then we would pray the Lord’s Prayer, sing a hymn and, finally, we would salute the flag and sing the National Anthem. So began each school day in the 1940s and ’50s. If we were Catholic, we were instructed to bring in a “Catholic Bible”; if Protestant, the version used by the church that student attended. If we were Jewish, we were instructed to read from one of the first five books of the Bible — the Torah. We were free to choose whatever reading we wanted. As a child, I was introduced to the word of God without really understanding or even appreciating the nourishment I was receiving at that time.
Today, I can trace the beginnings of my love for God’s word to those years. Seeds were planted in my heart of love for God and his ways that I wasn’t even necessarily conscious of. But they grew, watered by Mass and the sacraments, until one day, as a 17-year-old, “dropping into the Catholic school chapel for a quick ‘visit,’” I encountered the Lord hmself, inviting me to give my whole life to him for the sake of his people. Yes, many factors through the years played a role in my vocation, but the more I reflect on it, the more I see the significant part that a daily feeding on God’s word had to nourish and ready my soul to say “yes.” What part does the word of God play in your daily life? What do you read most frequently?
The word of God is not like any other book we pick up. In choosing a secular book to read, we choose what we like because of the author or the topic, and thenwe proceed to agree and disagree with the thoughts expressed. Magazines may entertain or inform, but rarely does a magazine offer real substance for serious reflection. Newspapers should help us to understand the issues and needs of the world but, today, with good journalism a rare exception, they are mostly a quick read for a few “facts.”
The world around us seems to be going at a faster and faster pace. So we can do more? More of what? We are becoming more frantic and frenzied, stressed and sometimes even burned out. How many of us ask: “Dear God, what is my life really about? Why am I here? What is your purpose for me? God, will you help me?” How many expect an answer?
Part of God’s answer, and a big part, is contained in the decision to read his word - a word designed by God himself to teach, to challenge, to comfort, to strengthen and direct. How desperately our frenzied world needs nourishment: the wisdom and courage, the hope and understanding of our circumstances and God’s plan.
The Psalmist knew where to find help: "Oh, how I love Thy law! It is my meditation all the day.Thy commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged for I keep thy precepts. I hold back my feet from every evil way in order to keep thy word. I do not turn aside from thy ordinances for thou hast taught me. How sweet are thy words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through thy precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path." (Ps 119:97-105)
Most Catholics would have a hard time assenting to the truth contained in these words of the psalmist. They don’t reflect the daily experience of most of us. But they could!
In all, and I do mean all, your circumstances, God’s word can give you a foundation of truth and wisdom, of hope and courage, of ways to deepen faith and love. I don’t think anyone would deny that we need more of all those things. How do we learn?
I hope, in the coming year, through this column, to illustrate how to read and understand the word of God in light of your daily circumstances. The word of God literally has power to change your life because it is Jesus Christ. His word, as it comes to you through the printed page, is “living, active, sharper than any two edged sword.” (cf Heb 4:12) The grace (a share in the very life of God) streams through his word to your heart and mind and spirit. This is the mercy of God at work. He never abandons his children. He longs to help you in the difficulties and trials, the joys and blessings of daily life on this earth.
This month, ask God daily to give you an increase of faith and hope.
Get out your favorite Bible. (I will be using the RSV translation.)
Look at your daily schedule and ask yourself where you could carve out 15 minutes a day to read his word, beginning now.
Read these passages from Scripture: Deuteronomy 30:11-20, Isaiah 66:1-2, Isaiah 55:10-11, Matthew 4:4, Colossians 3:1-4.
Finally, over the next month, take time to ponder what our Holy Father said to us in October of 2008 at the Synod in Rome on God’s Word:
“The word of God is the foundation of everything, it is the true reality. And to he realistic, we must rely upon this reality. We must change our notion that matter — solid things, things we can touch — is the most solid, the most certain reality. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord speaks to us about the two possible foundations for building the house of one’s life: sand and rock. He who builds on sand only builds on visible and tangible things: on success, on career, on money. Apparently these are the true realities. But all this one day will vanish. We can see this now with the fall of two large banks: this money disappears, it is nothing. And thus all things, which seem to be the true realities we can count on, are only realities of a secondary order. Who builds his life on these realities — on matter, on success, on appearances — builds upon sand. Only the word of God is the foundation of all reality, it is as stable as the heavens and, more than the heavens, it is reality. Therefore, we must change our concept of realism. The realist is he who recognizes the word of God, in this apparently weak reality, as the foundation of all things. Realist is he who builds his life on this foundation, which is permanent. Thus the first verses of the Psalm 18 (19) invite us to discover what reality is and how to find the foundation of our life, how to build life.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Synod on the Word of God, Oct. 5, 2008)
Saint of the Month
St. Brigid of Ireland. Patroness of Ireland, Feast Day - February 1st
by Mary Kay McPartlin
Born in 453 in Faughart, County Louth in Ireland, St. Brigid was the daughter of Dubtach, believed to be a chieftain in Leinster, and Brocca, a Christian slave baptized by St. Patrick. Brigid was also considered her father’s slave, and began working for him as soon as she was old enough.
Hearing St. Patrick preach inspired the young girl to care for the poor. As she owned nothing herself, Brigid first gave away the milk from the dairy where her mother worked. After she began living in her father’s house, she gave away her father’s possessions to those in need, making him angry.
After encouragement from the Leinster king, a Christian, Dubtach freed his daughter from slavery. Years later, when her father arranged marriage for Brigid, she rebelled, determined to remain a virgin and become a nun.
Legend says Brigid’s prayer for God to take her beauty and make her suitors uninterested was answered. Then, after she made her final vows, Brigid’s beauty was returned to her.
Brigid started a convent about 468, which was followed by her creation of convents all over Ireland. The first double monastery for both monks and nuns has been attributed to Brigid.
Brigid died on Feb. 1, 523, in Kildare, Ireland, of natural causes. Her body was interred in the Kildare Cathedral, until her relic was transferred to be interred with St. Patrick and St. Columba of Iona.
Alternative Spring Break
by Cynthia Kaan
Can I mix fun with something meaningful? Feeling a tug to do something more meaningful on your spring break than relax on a beach? Here are a few things to consider:
1. What is my purpose? Not your purpose in life- but the purpose behind your spring break plans. Are you looking to leave your life behind and R-E-L-A-X? Are you finding a way to glorify God in your plans? You can absolutely glorify God in relaxation - though the path to questionable decisions often begins with idle time.
2. Are you giving God the opportunity to bless your hard work this year? We all need breaks from the routine of life and school, but are you able to bring God along to whichever type of break you choose? Does your decision leave room for Him to bless your actions and relationships?
3. Have you prayed about it? If you are going somewhere witha group of people who challenge you in a positive way, encourage good decisions and generally seek to include God in their lives, a trip to to mountains or beach can be great. But if you hear a quiet whisper to explore a spring break option, perhaps God is asking you to open the door for him in a bigger way. Listen for his voice as you pray for guidance.
Ask a few trusted adults in your life if they ever experienced an alternative spring break; their stories may surprise and inspire you. Remember to trust your heart as you seek God’s blessing over your plans.