Reflection: Lent is here, and it couldn’t come at a better time! Lent is our way of taking a long loving look at ourselves and our lives and asking, “How can I be more faithful to the Gospel and grow deeper in my relationship with God?” To help us answer this question, the Church asks us to consider prayer, fasting, and almsgiving during this season.
Friday’s Scripture readings focus particularly on fasting. During Lent, we may abstain from various things: sweets, soda, idle conversations, etc. But the prophet Isaiah and Jesus remind us that the things which we abstain from should not be done for themselves alone, but to change our hearts. When we give up something, emptiness is created in our lives. We are called to fill that emptiness with God. Isaiah gives us a clue as to what this looks like in a concrete way: justice, sharing, care for the unwanted and mistreated. What will you give up this Lent and how will this lead you closer to God?
Did You Know? There is a difference between fasting and abstaining. In the Latin Church, fasting means only taking one full meal for that day, with the possibility of two smaller meals that do not equal a full meal. Abstinence is the act of going without something, such as meat from our Fridays during Lent. Click here for more information on fasting and abstinence.
Reflection: In today’s Gospel, the Pharisees approach Jesus to ask if it is lawful for a husband to divorce his wife. Interestingly, before He explains that divorce is not lawful, Jesus first explains what marriage is – the union of one man and one woman: “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh (Mark 10: 6-8).”
The Church’s teaching on marriage is not founded on statistical data nor merely in upholding tradition, but is rooted in the truth of the human person: men and women are created “in the image of God” as male and female. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that “marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they come from the hand of the Creator (no. 1603).” Furthermore, what is truly united can never be separated. This is why the union of a man and woman in marriage is permanent: “So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate (Mark 10: 8-9).”
Did You Know? At the beginning of the Extraordinary Consistory, Pope Francis addressed the College of Cardinals and introduced their topic of discussion. “During these days, we will reflect in particular on the family, which is the fundamental cell of society. From the beginning the Creator blessed man and woman so that they might be fruitful and multiply, and so the family then is an image of the Triune God in the world.”
February 26, 2014
Pope Francis recently wrote a letter to every family throughout the world, asking for prayers for the upcoming Synod in October. He begins, “With this letter, I wish, as it were, to come into your homes to speak about an event which will take place at the Vatican this coming October. It is the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which is being convened to discuss the theme of ‘pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelization’. Indeed, in our day the Church is called to proclaim the Gospel by confronting the new and urgent pastoral needs facing the family.”
He continued, “Such support on your part, dear families, is especially significant and more necessary than ever. This Synodal Assembly is dedicated in a special way to you, to your vocation and mission in the Church and in society; to the challenges of marriage, of family life, of the education of children; and the role of the family in the life of the Church. I ask you, therefore, to pray intensely to the Holy Spirit, so that the Spirit may illumine the Synodal Fathers and guide them in their important task. As you know, this Extraordinary Synodal Assembly will be followed a year later by the Ordinary Assembly, which will also have the family as its theme. In that context, there will also be the World Meeting of Families due to take place in Philadelphia in September 2015. May we all, then, pray together so that through these events the Church will undertake a true journey of discernment and adopt the necessary pastoral means to help families face their present challenges with the light and strength that comes from the Gospel.”
In concluding his letter, the Pope again emphasized the importance of prayer. “Dear families, your prayer for the Synod of Bishops will be a precious treasure which enriches the Church. I thank you, and I ask you to pray also for me, so that I may serve the People of God in truth and in love.”
For those looking for ways to participate in the Pope’s request, the U.S. Bishops have invited the faithful to join a nationwide movement of prayer, penance, and sacrifice for the sake of renewing a culture of life, marriage, and religious liberty. For more information on this “Call to Prayer,” visit usccb.org/pray.
Pope Francis’ full letter to families can be found here.
Intention: This week, we ask martyrs who have died for Christ to intercede for people around the world who suffer persecution so that they can continue to witness to the faith.
Reflection: Saturday, February 22 marks the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, whom we remember as the first Pope and head of the Roman Catholic Church. St. Peter suffered a martyr’s death, which Origen, a scholar and early Christian theologian, described as follows: “Peter was crucified at Rome with his head downwards, as he himself had desired to suffer.”
The testimony we learn of St. Peter and all Catholic martyrs reminds us to remain ever ardent in our faith even in the face of persecution in the modern world. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us: “Martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness unto death.” (CCC, no. 2473) In this way, we follow Christ who came into the world to proclaim the truth.
At a recent U.S. congressional hearing, the Vatican’s apostolic nuncio to the United Nations testified that “flagrant and widespread persecution of Christians rages in the Middle East even as we meet.” Other speakers at the hearing spoke about violence against Christians in Indonesia, Vietnam, Nigeria, Myanmar, Sudan, Eritrea, and elsewhere. We must continue to pray for those who suffer persecution on account of their faith.
Did You Know? Pope Francis remarked on the Syrian crisis last year, asking for prayers for those killed. He recognized the great courage of those who have kept their faith despite suffering and persecution and said, “To all those who are suffering, I say: Never lose hope! The church is alongside you, accompanies you and supports you.”
Reflection: Marriage, the union of one man and one woman, is a unique kind of relationship because in marriage, a husband and wife give themselves to one another completely. Before he became Pope John Paul II, Karol Wojtyla explained in his book Love and Responsibility, “The essence of [married] love is self-giving, the surrender of one’s ‘I.’” This means that married love is unselfish. A husband and wife are called to treat each day as a new opportunity to think of the other’s needs above their own. If this gift of self is lacking, he explained further, there is a danger that they may treat one another as objects to be used. With authentic love within the marriage of one man and one woman, however, giving oneself is never simply a total self-emptying. Through this giving, there is also a simultaneous receiving of one’s spouse’s gift of self in return. This reciprocal giving and receiving of love within marriage allows for a true and unique “communion of persons.”*
*For a deeper understanding of the meaning of “communion of persons,” visit the USCCB 2009 pastoral letter Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan, pages 10-11.
Did You Know? Pope Francis will be meeting with engaged couples for the Feast of Saint Valentine! Under the title “The Joy of Yes Forever!,” the event is expected to have several thousand participants. These couples from all around the world are looking forward to receiving advice and the blessing from the Holy Father as they embark on their high calling to image Christ’s love for His Church. More information on this event can be found here.
Reflection: In his Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, Blessed John Paul II called attention to the need for pastoral care of families that bear the cross of difficult family situations. “Loneliness and other difficulties are often the lot of separated spouses, especially when they are the innocent parties.” He continued by explaining that “the ecclesial community must support such people more than ever…and it must help them to cultivate the need to forgive which is inherent in Christian love…” Troubled or broken marriages are particularly difficult for the children, who naturally identify their existence with the love between their mother and father. When that love no longer appears to exist, a deep rooted loss of self may begin to be felt. Although it may be very difficult, with the help of God’s grace, it is always possible to heal from the wounds of division. As Blessed John Paul II emphasized, “No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone, especially those who ‘labor and are heavy laden (no. 85).’”
Did You Know? Today is the first day of National Marriage Week. Join us from February 7-14 in the campaign to strengthen marriages and build a stronger marriage culture by promoting and defending the truth of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. For information on how you can participate, visit the National Marriage Week website.
Intention: We pray that we can continue to educate students in the fullness of our Catholic faith.
Reflection: In his proclamation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis praises the efforts of Catholic schools and charities that promote peace, social harmony, and the protection of human and civil rights. He states, “Yet, we find it difficult to make people see that when we raise other questions less palatable to public opinion, we are doing so out of fidelity to precisely the same convictions about human dignity and the common good.” The role of Catholic schools, the Holy Father emphasizes, is to remain in dialogue with the formative teachings of the Church. In this way, all the sciences are embedded with Catholic theology, and these disciplines become instruments “for enlightening and renewing the world.” In his address to trustees of the University of Notre Dame on Thursday, Pope Francis explained, “Essential…is the uncompromising witness of Catholic universities to the Church’s moral teaching, and the defense of her freedom, precisely in and through her institutions, to uphold that teaching as authoritatively proclaimed by the magisterium of her pastors.”
In light of Catholic Schools Week, let us remember the role of Catholic schools in striving to proclaim the Gospel message in all areas of study through first knowing and loving Christ.
Did You Know? Catholic Schools Week is being observed in dioceses around the country from January 26 through February 1. This year’s theme, “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service,” focuses on the principles of a Catholic education.
Intention: May we accompany women facing crisis pregnancies with the compassionate and merciful love of Christ.
Reflection: In his homily at the Opening Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life, Cardinal O’Malley said, “The feelings of the woman in the Gospel must be like the young woman caught in a crisis situation of an unwanted pregnancy. She feels overwhelmed, alone, afraid, confused. We must never allow that woman to perceive the Pro-Life movement as a bunch of angry self righteous Pharisees with stones in their hands, looking down on her and judging her. We want the woman to experience the merciful love of Christ. Jesus does not condone the woman’s fall, but He does not condemn her. He invites her to make a new start, to know that she is forgiven and loved. Pope Francis urges us to practice ‘the art of accompaniment’ which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other, in this case, the woman in crisis. This accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our compassionate gaze which heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian Life.”
Did You Know? Today is Day Seven of 9 Days for Life, but it’s not too late to participate! Join thousands of people across the country praying the U.S. Catholic bishops’ novena for life through a free app, email, text message, and more. http://www.9daysforlife.com
Intention: We pray that we can continue to serve the poor and needy while living out the fullness of our faith.
Reflection: In his exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis urges Catholics and non-Catholics alike to serve the poorest among us. As Christians, we are called to serve Christ by serving and caring for our brothers and sisters. We do this every day in our schools, hospitals, and charitable organizations that seek to alleviate the suffering of the vulnerable.
Read Pope Francis’ recent words regarding Christ’s love for humanity and living out this love in our daily lives.
Archbishop Kurtz, President of the USCCB, has explained how the HHS mandate threatens our ability to serve the poor and vulnerable and how “forcing our ministries to divert funds from serving their neighbors to paying government fines will have real consequences for real people.” Let us pray that the administration, Congress, and the courts will allow us to serve others while living out the fullness of the Catholic faith.
Did You Know? Each year, the President declares January 16th to be Religious Freedom Day, which commemorates the landmark adoption in 1786 of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, drafted by Thomas Jefferson. The goal of this day is to promote and protect religious expression and to “observe this day through appropriate events and activities in homes, schools, and places of worship.”
Reflection: Along with Christmas, we will be celebrating the Feast of the Holy Family this weekend! The Holy Family stands as a great example for each of our families. Although they faced many trials and difficulties, Mary and Joseph were able to remain joyful through it all because Christ was with them. In the words of Pope Francis, “…true joy even remains during times of trial too, even in suffering, because it is not superficial joy but enters into the very depths of the person who entrusts himself to God and confides in him…Those who have met Jesus along the way have experienced a joy that nothing and no one can take away. Jesus Christ is our joy! His faithful love is inexhaustible!” So, even though our families may surely face many difficulties, we can remain joyful because we do not have to face these trials alone. Christ is with us!
Did You Know? Although Christmas Day was two days ago, the Christmas Season has only just begun! In fact, the Church continues celebrating until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on January 12th. So, don’t take down those Christmas decorations just yet; keep the celebration going!