How to Recover After a Disappointing Lent

We’re now in the middle of the Easter Octave and Lent 2017 is in the history books.  Maybe you didn’t have the most spiritual Lent this year.  Maybe you didn’t give something up or cheated a bit.  Maybe you didn’t receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, didn’t fast, or didn’t commit yourself to prayer.  Some of you may not have acted any differently during Lent than any other time of the year.

In the wake of a disappointing Lenten season, it’s easy to throw your hands into the air and say, “well, better luck next year.  That’s when I’ll really take Lent seriously.”  With that attitude, you basically turn Lent into some sort of spiritual open enrollment period where, if you miss it, you have to wait an entire year before you can make changes to your spiritual behavior.  Granted, I haven’t read the entire Bible (yet) but I don’t think God specified a time window on when you can convert and invest in a deeper relationship with Him.

I also hope there isn’t a three month wait list to receive God’s grace.

What can you do now that Lent is over?  Easter is a celebration that lasts for 50 days.  What better way to celebrate than committing yourself to increased prayer, fasting, and receiving the sacraments.  Like Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast, we want to come dressed to this glorious Easter celebration “dressed” appropriately.  That means with a soul cleansed of sin and a humble spirit of conversion.  Sure, we may not have used all 40 days of Lent to adequately prepare, but getting prepared now and arriving a little late to the party is better than missing the party completely.  Better late than never, right?

On the flip side, maybe you had a great Lent which is turning into a great Easter.  And while we may ease up a bit on the fasting and sacrifice, we shouldn’t do a complete 180 and undo those gains by sinning, not praying, and ignoring our faith.  Hopefully, what you did during Lent will have a lasting impression.  For example, I gave up snacking for Lent.  But just because Lent is over, it doesn’t mean I’m going to become a glutton (although I may have gone overboard on the donuts last Sunday).  While I may not be as steadfast as I was during Lent, I think I will continue to abstain from snacking at least two days a week.

Remember, it will all still be there tomorrow. Stay strong and resist temptation.

After Jesus’ death, many people thought they could back to their “old” lives and basically wrote off Jesus as someone who had some interesting ideas but died tragically.  Saint Peter momentarily went back to fishing.  Jesus’ disciples started leaving Jerusalem to pick up where they left off.  We too may have that feeling that now that Easter Sunday has passed, it’s time we return to our “normal” lives.  But Jesus’ resurrection actually created a new normal and permanently altered human kind‘s relationship with God.  Similarly, each Lent and Easter, we should be creating a new normal for ourselves as well; always pushing ourselves to form a deeper relationship with God.  Let’s not make the same mistake Jesus’ disciples made treating Jesus as a passing fad.  Instead, prolong the spirit of the Resurrection and make your relationship with Him something you work on every day for the rest of your life.

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Gone Fishing

Another Divine Mercy Sunday, another empty church. I am always disheartened to see so many empty pews after the standing room only Easter Mass. Where did everyone go? So much for Easter transforming hearts and minds right?

Seeing all those empty pews reminds me of this reading from John’s Gospel.  One of the first things Peter did after Christ’s death was go fishing. In the Gospel, he says it almost casually — “I am going fishing” (John 21:3). After the drama that he had just encountered, Peter was looking to return to something comfortable and familiar. It’s almost like he was thinking that being one of Jesus’s apostles was great, but that was now something in his past.  Maybe he saw it like we see our teenage or college years — a phase that we grew out of. Peter was picking up his life where he left off before meeting Jesus — as a fisherman.

Jesus and the miraculous catch of fish, in the...
Jesus and the miraculous catch of fish, in the Sea of Galilee, by Raphael (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Don’t we all have a bit of Peter in our hearts? We fasted and sacrificed during Lent and celebrated on Easter Sunday. For 40+ days our hearts were focus on making room for Christ. And then what do we do? Go to work the next day and do the same things we’ve always done as if Easter was just another day on the calendar. Do you even recall what the priest said in his Easter homily? Do you feel fundamentally changed? Probably not. But you seem to be in good company since it seems that many of the apostles initially treated their time with Jesus like it was a passing fad. It had its moments and even some promise, but now it was time to get back to reality.

When I find myself sliding back into routine, I meditate on the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the rosary — Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple.  I recall how the Holy Spirit promised St. Simeon that he would not die until seeing the chosen one.  Imagine how surprised, joyful, and maybe even a little scared Simeon must have felt upon hearing this news.  Maybe we felt a similar passion and joy towards our faith on Easter Sunday.  Now imagine how many years Simeon must have waited for that promise to be fulfilled.  The Bible doesn’t give an exact count, but all depictions of Simeon show him as an elderly man.  Who would have blamed him if he started to doubt that promise and believed his time would be better spent on something other than his faith?  But did he lose hope or did he let any doubt affect his faith in God’s plan for him?

Rembrandt Simeon houdt Jesus vast
Rembrandt Simeon houdt Jesus vast (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like St. Simeon, remaining devout to the end of his life, so too must we be devout in our faith long after the immediate joy and glory of Easter fades.  Many times our faith feels challenging like Christ’s last human days on Good Friday and not the celebration of Easter.  But we pray the rosary and focus on imitating those who remained steadfast even in the absence of signs, wonders, and even joy.  We remember St. Mother Teresa who fought a seemingly hopeless battle of helping the poor.  Or we draw inspiration from the martyrs who died without seemingly changing anyone’s heart towards Jesus Christ.  When we pray the rosary, we pray for the faith and hope that Jesus hears our prayers and does answer them even when it seems like we are wasting our time.

Peter may have thought that his time as Jesus’ apostle was in vain.  He may have thought that he would just return to being a fisherman instead of the fisher of men that Jesus promised.  But of course we know that God had a grander plan for St. Peter than just being Jesus’ apostle in Jesus’ earthly life.  And so we pray that we also have the faith, courage, and fortitude to understand that God has a grander plan for all of us even when it seems like our prayers go unheard.

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Lent Post Mortem

 

In software engineering it is common to have a post mortem upon completion of a large project.  A post mortem gives the team a chance to identify what went well and what went badly in the course of the project and investigate the root causes.  The idea is to continue doing what is good and avoid making the same mistakes in future projects.  I like to think of Lent as a large spiritual project that deserves its own post mortem.

When I look back at my Lent, here’s what I did right:

  • Received the Sacrament of Reconciliation
  • Listened to the Gospel nearly everyday
  • Prayed the rosary nearly everyday (okay, that’s not too different from my usual routine)
  • Fasted from alcohol, candy, and snacks during the day

What was less than ideal:

  • Did not attend any extra Masses or prayer services
  • Did not receive ashes on Ash Wednesday
  • While I did not snack during the day, I didn’t exactly show a lot of willpower in the evening.  So my fast was more like a delayed gratification on some days.

What did I learn?

  • Listening to the daily Gospel really fills in the story and teachings of Jesus that you don’t get only listening to the Sunday Gospel.  I started to better understand the buildup to Holy Week and how Jesus drew the ire of the Pharisees which led to his crucifixion.  I will try to continue reading/listening to the Gospel daily.
  • I should try to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation more often.
  • Since I abstained from snacks and treats on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, I know I can make it the entire day without them.  I should put in more effort to fast from snacks throughout the year, not just on those two days.

Now it’s your turn.  What did you gain during this Lent?  Where did you fall short and do you plan on correcting any errors made during Lent in this Easter season?

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Easter is the Beginning, Not the End

Easter Sunday has come and gone which means life can get back to normal right? No more Lenten sacrifices so the donuts, chocolate, and beers can come out of the hiding spots. No more meatless Fridays. No more long Gospel readings. No more stations of the cross, rosaries, and being hounded to go to Confession.  Time to shelve that piety until Advent yes?

Don’t start making plans for that vice-filled weekend quite yet.  Lent was a time of preparation. But preparation for what? What happened on Easter Sunday that required 40 days of training? Surely Lent wasn’t about fine tuning your egg finding abilities or expanding your sugar tolerance. In terms of process, the Easter Mass wasn’t any different than other Sunday Masses.  There really wasn’t anything different on Easter Sunday than any other Sunday. What was all the preparation for?

Technically, Easter isn’t a day but a whole season.  It lasts 50 days starting with Easter Sunday and ending at Pentecost.  Did we spend 40 days of Lent preparing for 50 days of Easter?  Do we just have to practice our faith extra hard for three months and then we don’t have to think about it until Christmas?  Of course not.  In fact, there is no end date or time limit to what we profess during Easter.

When we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection on Easter, we acknowledge the truth of his ministry. Jesus said that he would die and rise again and we celebrate the reality of that claim on Easter. But it’s not just about celebrating that single promise, but all of his promises. Easter is a celebration of the entire Gospel where we rejoice in all the promises and teachings Jesus gave us.  If Jesus was right about the outlandish claim of raising from the dead then he was right about everything else he preached. And we celebrate and give honor to Jesus’ resurrection by promising to go out and live according to his teachings.  Jesus asked us to go out and love our neighbors and our enemies.  He asked us to show compassion to the suffering and less fortunate.  He asked us to forgive those who wronged us.  He asked us to turn away from sin.  He promised eternal joy in Heaven.  He fulfilled that promise on Easter by rising from the dead and opening those gates for all of us.

Jesus Resurrection 1778
Jesus Resurrection 1778 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s spring so I’m going to use a baseball analogy.  Think of Lent as the pre-season.  We exercise and got into spiritual shape through fasting and prayer.  It was a time where we worked extra hard to shed those bad habits that crept in over the past year.  But if Lent is pre-season, Easter Sunday is opening day.  Yes, it’s a grand event filled with joy, hope, and optimism.  But it’s one day of many. And it is one Easter season of many.  Following Jesus’ teachings doesn’t end on Easter Sunday any more than the baseball season ends after the first game.  Instead, it is a time of hope and renewal as we look towards living out the Gospel in its entirety for the rest of our lives.

Easter Sunday has come and gone.  The candy will disappear over the next few days.  The pastel decorations and colorful eggs will be takn down.  But the celebration continues and requires your active participation.  Continue praying the rosary.  Continue attending Mass.  Continue fasting (maybe after indulging a little on the things you gave up during Lent).  When you meditate on the First Glorious Mystery of the rosary, picture Jesus opening the gates of Heaven in his resurrection.  He showed us that there is so much more to our lives than just what we experience on earth.  We are eternal beings with souls destined for Heaven if we choose.  Our praying, fasting, penance, and charity doesn’t end on Easter.  It ends when the Lord welcomes us into his kingdom that he made available to us through his resurrection.  Keep your rosaries close and God even closer!

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The Dulling of Faith

We just remembered the 70th anniversary of the Allied landing on Normandy in WWII.  Operation Overlord, or D-Day, was a massive operation that forever changed the face of our world.  Thousands of men stormed the beaches and for many of them, the flashes of German gunfire from concrete bunkers was the last thing they would ever see and the deafening sounds of mortar shells was the last thing they would ever hear.

But like many historical events, even the big ones like D-Day, time erodes our memories and emotions of these events.  As the people who experienced these events pass away and all we’re left with are pictures and videos, these world changing moments start to feel less real and meaningful to us.  Washington D.C. burning to the ground in 1812, thousands of men dying at Gettysburg, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, D-Day, and one day, 9/11, almost start to have as much impact as a work of fiction as time goes on.

D-DAY IMAGE ...
D-DAY IMAGE … (Photo credit: mrbill78636)

I think we often suffer from time diminishing our faith.  Many of us read the Bible and listen to the Gospels at least once a week during Sunday Mass.  We may pray routinely.  We know what Jesus taught and what He expects of us.  We know the high bar He sets for us to get into His kingdom of Heaven.  And I bet, if Jesus walked into your room and repeated what He said in the Gospels, He would have your complete attention.  You would run out and change anything and everything in your life that didn’t line up with His teaching.

And yet, we often ignore, trivialize, or give lip service to Jesus’ message because He said it nearly 2000 years ago and we didn’t witness it firsthand.  We are like St. Thomas who doubted Jesus’ resurrection when the other disciples told him about it because he didn’t personally see Him.  But Jesus’ teachings are no different today than when He walked this earth.  His teachings are no different through the Gospel than if He came walking through your door right now.  And yet we too allow the trivialities of our present situation to overshadow the greater truths Jesus taught us.

English: Transfiguration of Jesus

I think about my lack of appreciation of Jesus’ truth most when I pray the Fourth Luminous Mystery of the rosary, The Transfiguration.  I think about how awe inspiring it must have been for the apostles to witness Jesus transform into a figure of dazzling light and to hear God say, “LISTEN TO HIM.”  If we truly believe in the authenticity of the Catholic faith, then we know the Transfiguration was a real event.  God didn’t just tell the apostles to listen to Jesus.  He told all of us!  But ask yourself, do you live with an awareness of that reality?  Or do you often ignore or trivialize the truths of the Catholic faith because you didn’t personally witness Jesus saying them?  Why does a difference of time and place have such a dramatic effect on our willingness to follow Jesus’ teachings?

Before you beat yourself up, remember that even the apostles failed to truly believe in Jesus’ teachings when confronted with the realities around them.  Judas betrayed Jesus.  Peter, who witnessed the Transfiguration, denied Him.  And all of them, except for John, went into hiding during Jesus’ crucifixion.  They didn’t even have the excuse of being separated from Jesus by thousands of years like we do.  Their cowardice shows just how powerful our human weaknesses are and how they can dominate over our desire to live for God’s eternal kingdom.

And while we may fail to truly believe in Jesus’ message like the apostles did, God came into our lives in yet another form — as the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit gave the apostles that shot of courage and conviction to go out and live and preach the Jesus’ message.  While they may have been lukewarm in their faith while Jesus was alive, they were transformed into true believers on Pentecost.  Even in their fear, the Holy Spirit penetrated their souls and gave the apostles a needed spiritual “kick.”

The Holy Spirit descending at Pentecost by Ant...
The Holy Spirit descending at Pentecost by Anthony van Dyck, circa 1618. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many of us are in need of a spiritual kick.  We may not live in fear of practicing our faith (although more and more Christians are being persecuted and martyred throughout the world).  But many of us do suffer from a sense of passivity in our faith because we haven’t heard Jesus’ teachings directly from His mouth.  But the Holy Spirit, the same one that roused the scared apostles into action, rouses us into action as well.  We only have to provide that small bit of kindling in our souls for the fire of the Holy Spirit to erupt into a bright flame of faith.  That kindling is something as small and as easy as focused prayer, rosary meditation, participating at Mass, and receiving the sacraments.  It doesn’t matter that Jesus walked this earth nearly 2000 years ago.  His message is still the same and the Holy Spirit burns just as bright!

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Lenten Postmortem

I’m a software engineer.  Part of my job is participating in what are commonly called technical postmortems.  In postmortems, my team recalls what went right and what went wrong with a recently completed project.  The idea is that by learning what we did right and wrong we can correct our bad practices while continuing our good ones in future projects.  An important part of engineering is always refining our processes and behaviors.

thinking-272677_1280

I figure, why not do a postmortem on Lent the same way I do with an engineering project?  This way, I can reflect on what I did right this year and what I need to improve upon for next year.  Like other aspects of our life, we need to sometimes assess our spiritual behavior.  If we don’t, then how will we know what to improve?  What goals can we set for the next day, week, month, year, etc.?  In the Third Luminous Mystery, Jesus calls us to a life of conversion.  But to convert our ways, we first have to analyze them.

Of course, in this case we really can’t call it a postmortem since Jesus is alive and well (that is the main idea behind Easter after all).  So, I’m going to coin a new term and call this a post-risen or post-lenten.

What went wrong

  1. Didn’t go to Ash Wednesday Mass
  2. Initial Lenten sacrifice was too easy
  3. Took a few “cheat” days on Lenten sacrifice
  4. Only went to one bible study class out of an entire series of classes
  5. Didn’t go to any extra Lenten events (Stations of the Cross, weekday Mass, etc.)
  6. Didn’t acknowledge Good Friday noon-3pm hours with prayers, silent reflection, etc.

What went right

  1. Went to a Good Friday Mass service in the evening
  2. Followed through with my Lenten sacrifice (once I made it)
  3. I said a short prayer whenever I was tempted to break my sacrifice
  4. Contributed to a charitable cause
  5. Attended a bible study class in my parish
  6. Received the Sacrament of Confession

Lent Logo 2008

What I need to do next year is plan my Lenten sacrifice much better.  This year I started out with a “no dessert after lunch” sacrifice which turned out to be too easy since not having desserts was something I was already doing for the most part.  About half way through I changed it to giving up all sweets during the day.  Now that was much more challenging but something I was able to do.  And whenever I felt tempted to have a piece of candy or a cookie, I said a small prayer instead.  So my sacrifice led to more prayer throughout the day.  That was what I learned.  How about you?  Can you think of ways you can improve your spiritual habits from this past Lent?

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Gospel for May 8, 2011 — Awareness

Man and woman (holding her child) walking by t...
Image via Wikipedia

The Gospel for Sunday, May 8 is from Luke 24:13-35 where some disciples of Jesus met Him on the road to Jerusalem but did not recognize Him.  They did not realize Jesus was with them until He ate with them and broke bread similar to what He did at the Last Supper.  Only then did they realize how foolish they were that they did not recognize Jesus in their presence.  Likewise, when we pray the rosary Jesus is in our presence both listening to us and trying to guide us to His kingdom of Heaven.  But often we do not recognize Jesus’ presence in our prayers or in our lives.

This Sunday’s Gospel follows the same theme as last week’s in that it shows that all too often we look for God in our lives in all the wrong places.  Last week Thomas the apostle had so little faith he would not recognize Jesus’ resurrection until he saw Jesus face to face.  And now in this week’s Gospel two of Jesus’ disciples did not recognize Jesus although they were walking and talking with Him.  They did not see Jesus despite the fact that He explained all the scriptures and the teachings of the prophets explaining His death and resurrection.  And yet they still did not recognize Him.  We too often fail to recognize Jesus in our lives although His truth is all around us.

I touched on this briefly when discussing Doubting Thomas and how we do not always take those telling the truth seriously.  In this case I mean the truth of Jesus Christ as taught through the Catholic Church.  We hear this truth all the time whether it be during Mass, in the Catechism or Bible, Papal decrees, or simply the Church’s traditions that have been practiced for centuries.  We hear them and yet we so often do not follow them because we do not think of them as Jesus’ teachings.  We hear them as the thoughts and opinions of fellow humans much like the disciples in the Gospel thought that Jesus was just some normal traveler.  And so we do not give the Church’s teachings the consideration they deserve and go about living counter to its teachings.  Would you argue about abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, contraception, and human cloning if you stood face to face with Jesus?  Probably not.  So why do we so readily argue with His Church and disobey His teachings?  Are we like the disciples in the Gospel who discovered how foolish they were for not recognizing Jesus in their presence?

We should remember this Gospel reading when we pray the Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary and remember Jesus’ proclamation of Heaven and His call to conversion.  Really meditate this week on the areas in your life where you do not hear Jesus through the Church’s teachings and challenge yourself to learn what Jesus is trying to tell you through His Church.  You will probably not be converted in some of your beliefs overnight.  But just researching what the Church really believes and teaches and humbling yourself to the possibility that there might be areas of your life where you have not let the Holy Spirit guide you is a huge step in the right direction.  There is no doubt that questioning your deeply held beliefs is hard especially if Jesus leads you in a direction that runs counter to popular opinion.  But the Third Luminous Mystery points out that we need to choose whether to live for God’s kingdom or our earthly kingdom.  Do you see that Jesus walks beside you every day and is trying to lead you down the right path or are you too wrapped up in living solely for what this world has to offer?

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