About Getting Your Ash in Church

“Some people think that having ash on your forehead is ridiculous.
But I am neither ashamed nor afraid because
the ashes remind me that I have to someday pass away
and reunite with my creator.”

-Walter Buns

[The following is (more or less) a reflection I gave to a group of high school students today for an Ash Wednesday prayer service.]

Sacrifice. Sacrifice is that big word that we must face at the beginning of this Lent. But when we think of sacrifice, it is important to understand what we mean. When we hear ‘sacrifice,’ some people might think of parents sacrificing for their children, or sports players sacrificing for their teams, or soldiers for their country, or even Christ’s ultimate sacrifice on the Cross. Whatever image we prefer, we can all recognize the common factors of each of these different scenarios. We can all see that these are sacrifices. (If you cannot, feel free to comment, and I shall explain.)

But when we look at these sacrifices that people make or that we make, if we truly wish to dive into the topic, we ask the question: Why? Why would we sacrifice? Why do these people make these sacrifices? And if you take the time to think about it, you will discover that these sacrifices are made out of love. Love moves us to sacrifice. Love moves us to put the needs of others before our own. We see the needs of another, and we seek those above our own.

At the beginning of Lent, a common conversation is, “What are you giving up?” Most people know of the concept of giving up something for Lent. When we give up something, we must recognize that this is indeed a sacrifice. And if it is a sacrifice, then it is done out of love. We are making a sacrifice for a greater good, beyond merely ourselves and our own good. We are looking beyond the closed-mindedness of our daily routine for something beyond us. Thus, in being called to make sacrifices for Lent, the question will inevitably arise: For what purpose? What love or purpose is driving us to seek to sacrifice something? The answer is a deeper relationship with God. We are sacrificing these things, whether big or little, for the sake of growing into a deeper relationship with our loving God above.

During these 40 days of Lent, we place ourselves in the desert with Christ Himself. Just as Christ fasted in the desert for 40 days, so too are we called to fast and sacrifice during the season of Lent. christ-in-the-desertWe fast and we sacrifice in order to grow closer to God. But how does this happen? How does giving up candy help me to grow closer to God? Well, some things really won’t help us grow closer to God, which is why we want to seek to answer these questions at the outset of the season. By ridding ourselves of unnecessary attachments, we allow ourselves more opportunities and more time to be put to better use. For example, I watch a lot of TV shows. Thus, in order to detach myself from this unhealthy attachment, I am sacrificing my time watching TV shows; I am giving up TV shows for Lent. Thus, I will have more time and opportunities to spend in seeking out a deepening of my relationship with God. Once again, some things bring us closer to God, while other things keep us from doing so. During this Season of Lent, we are called to seek to strip ourselves of those things that drag us down for the sake of those things that pick us up, bringing us closer to God.

During this time of Lent, we have three main pillars, so-to-speak: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. During the Season, we are called to seek our these three things, in order to deepen our relationship with God. We fast, and we sacrifice certain things, in order that we might grow closer to God. Because of these sacrifices, we have more time to re-focus ourselves toward God and serving Him, and seeking His will in our lives. We have more time for prayer, for actively seeking out that deeper relationship. We also have more time, and maybe more money to give alms, whether it entails sacrificing our time, our talent, or our treasure for those less fortunate than us. While not all people have the monetary means to give money to the poor, all of us are blessed with plenty of time and talent, which we can give for the sake of others.

 

Throughout this whole season, we are called to focus on Christ’s ultimate sacrifice. Christ made the ultimate sacrificecrucifixion for each and every one of us on the Cross. If we stop to think about it, we can truly be blown away by the love that motivated that sacrifice. If it were only you, Christ would have endured all of His suffering for the sake of just that one, for you. He had you in mind when He made the ultimate sacrifice. So, while our own sacrifices will pale in comparison to Christ’s, we are still called to follow His example. On the night before He died, Christ prayed to the Father, “Let this cup pass from me if it is possible. But not my will, but yours be done.” Sacrifice was even difficult and painful for Christ Himself. Sacrifice is going to be hard; it’s not meant to be easy. But by following Christ’s example, we rid ourselves of those unnecessary things that occupy our lives. Whether we strip away activities or habits, we answer this call to cleanse ourselves of all those things that drag us down. When we remove the unnecessary, what we have left is the necessary – our lives, in service to God and His will in our daily lives.

At the beginning of this Lenten season, we celebrate Ash Wednesday. We receive ashes on our foreheads, ashesin order to remind us of our utter dependence on God and our mortality. In the Book of Genesis, we hear God to say to us, “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We are indeed lowly creatures, who were created from nothing by a loving God. If we focus too much on the wrong part of this, we can get trapped in a feeling of a meaningless existence. Thus, though we are lowly, our Creator is truly loving! This loving God desires to be in a relationship with each and every one of us. While we often distract ourselves from Him, falling away, God always seeks us out; He wants that relationship. I challenge you to seek to enter into this Lenten season. I call you to seek out a deeper relationship with God.

What is it that is keeping you from a loving relationship with God?

What can you sacrifice for the greater good of your relationship with God?

In what ways can you persist in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving?

We leave this world just as we came into it: with nothing. For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

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Duc In Altum

 

Christ the Carpenter: A Reflection

Today, in the Roman Catholic Church, we celebrate the feast day of St. Joseph the Worker. Many churches would not celebrate his feast day, because it is a Sunday, but the Mass I attended today celebrated his day alongside the Sixth Sunday of Easter. During the homily, our priest discussed St. Joseph and his role as a carpenter, mentioning that his Son, Jesus, would have also been a carpenter, learning the trade from Joseph himself. The following is a reflection based on the thoughts of Christ as a carpenter, looking toward his ultimate calling. This is a work of fiction, and I do not claim for it to be historically accurate.

Father & Son (St. Joe & Jesus)

Today is my 13th birthday! My father has let me join him for a trip into Tiberias for the day, and I am really excited! This is all a part of my apprenticeship, so that I can be a carpenter just like him. He is so diligent in his work, and so selfless! Just last week he gave our neighbors half off, because they could not afford the original price. I would love to be able to be a carpenter like him.
When we got on the road, I could hardly contain my excitement, but my father – the calm, mild-mannered man that he is – asked me to calm down a little bit. Though I did calm down outwardly, I was still very excited, and had a huge grin on my face. A little bit into the journey, something took away my excitement. After we turned a corner on the road, there they were, hanging on the side of the road as far as the eye could see: numerous naked men, hanging from crosses, crucified for who knows what. Sadly, it was not an uncommon sight to see in Israel, while under Roman rule. My father placed his hand on my shoulder.
“It will be okay, Y’shua,” he said to me. “Let us keep moving. We can take a different road.”
“No, father,” I said sheepishly. “We can keep taking this road.” My father hesitantly agreed. While I had deep concern for the lives of each of these men, and while I did commend each of them to my heavenly Father, I could not help but be transported 20 years into the future. A tear rolled down my cheek. 
Abba. I prayed to my Father. Why must this be? But I know. Not my will…
I wish that I could explain to my father why it is I am crying, but I know that he will not be able to be there for my mother. I could not dare tell him of this now. He sees my tears as a sadness for those crucified men, and indeed they are. But I have many pains more on my mind. Those nails in my hand. That crown on my head. Those nails in my feet. My father knowing that he will not be able to be there. My dear mother’s heart… Oh, my mother’s heart! I cannot bear to think of the pain she will go through. But I know that I have her to help as my Co-redemptrix. I need not battle this task alone, and Father would not make me.
As we walk this street, I anticipate my death, the pain of my mother, and even the pain of my father. Once we passed the last of the men, though the mood became very somber, I thought of each and every person whom I will be saving. I thought of my mother, and my father. I thought of the grace that will come from my side. While tears still streamed from my eyes, I was still able to smile, because, though I am going to suffer, and my mother is going to suffer, there is no reason to be sad, because Abba has us.

Jesus

Today is my 23rd birthday. It has been great to be working with my father. He constantly affirms me in my ability to build just like him, in addition to my positive business dealings with our fellow Nazarenes. I know that I was born for so much more than to just serve as a carpenter, but I also know that it is no accident that Joseph is my foster father. Working with wood is truly where I am meant to be for these next years.
Because I am getting older and more responsible for our carpentry work, my father has decided to send me to Tiberias this year on my own. We need to travel there to have our annual dealings with the Romans. He thought that it would be good for me to get used to these long-distance travels, because he knows what my future holds for me.
I turned that same corner again, and it seemed to hurt even more than when I walked here ten years ago. Working with wood and building things has been my passion for more than ten years, now. Not only is it so terrible to think of these tortured naked men being fixed to these crosses, but something constructive is being used for such a destructive and heinous purpose. I can think of no worse way to show irreverence to creation than to use it as a means to kill.
These men suffer much, and for what? So the Romans can meet their quota? I can think of no act that would warrant such an earthly punishment. 
The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Who is man to think that he can decide otherwise? Woodworking is such a pure and constructive vocation, and yet it is used for such heinous evil.
I continue to walk by these men, and their faces elicit compassion in my heart. 
Mercy. Mercy is the word that sticks out in my mind. Humanity is so fallen. They think that they are right to do things such as this. That is why I am here: to help them, to save them from that. I do not want humanity to continue like this, but man can change. I have seen that around me my whole life. I truly believe that man can change, and so I must embrace my cross, in order that they may choose to be with me.

Christ and the Cross

Today is my 33rd birthday. My Day is coming. It will definitely be the hardest thing I will have ever done. In my travels throughout Israel, it was definitely not uncommon for me to see crucified men alongside the road. In fact, the Empire has been getting more and more strict recently, for there have seemed to be more crucifixions in the last years.
I see those crosses, and so many thoughts go flooding through my mind. I think of those poor souls who were probably crucified unjustly. I think of my the crime against creation in using the wood to murder. I also think of my mother, and the fate that she and I will share on that Day.
I think of my father… My father, who taught me all of my carpentry skills. I miss him; I truly do. I know that I will see him soon. My work in carpentry, though it has been a few years, was my passion for years. It makes sense that the Father placed me in a home of carpentry, for the passion of my youth will be intimately connected to my true Passion. On that Day, when I embrace my cross, I embrace it as accepting my calling, to die for the sins of all people. But I will also embrace it, knowing that my lifelong passion will be the last encounter before I die. I know that my death will not be the end, but I embrace my Passion and my passion.
How appropriate that what has been my passion throughout my life, and what will be the instrument of my Passion, shall be the object of the passion of many, until the end of the age. Wood has been my method of construction, of making, of creating – of sorts.. Through the wood of the Cross, I will take part in a New Creation, allowing for that which has been my passion to be the passion of all. When my time on earth has ended, I know that I will be remembered, and the wood that has been my passion shall be the way by which I am remembered. When you remember me, I ask that you embrace the wood of the cross, just as I have embraced the wood of my work all my life, and then embraced the wood of the cross on that Day.

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Duc In Altum

Ring out the False, Ring in the True

“The object of a New Year is not
that we should have a new year.
It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose;
new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes.
Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions,
he would make no resolutions.
Unless a man starts afresh about things,
he will certainly do nothing effective.”

-G.K. Chesterton

In the past, I have indeed taken a somewhat cynical view of New Years and resolutions. I don’t want to do that this year. The new year is a time for us to truly renew ourselves, renew our lives. We all have our birthdays. We Christians all have our Baptism days (when we have our spiritual birth). However, those dates differ amongst most people. There are few people that share my birthday, or my Baptism day. New Years Day is that common day amongst all people. We all have that day to seek to renew ourselves. We need not do this alone. We have (essentially) every person on earth by our side to seek this renewal that we all know we need. We have others to hold us accountable. We have others to encourage us. We have others working on their own resolutions to serve as that additional reminder. We are not alone, so we need not go through this all by ourselves.

However, it’s not inaccurate to say that New Year’s resolutions have a tendency to fail. Actually, let me correct that: we have a tendency to fail at our New Year’s resolutions. It’s not just cynical to say that; we would be lying to ourselves if we said otherwise. What is to keep that from happening again? I can see two main aspects to examine in regards to this: ourselves and our resolutions.

Firstly, we ourselves are different. We do more each year. We experience more each year. We learn more each year. NResolutionso, our identity does not change. However, much of how we are does change. We are entering this New Year much different than when we entered last year’s, and even more than the year before that, etc. We know more what we’re capable of. We know more what we need. We can deny as much as we want that we need not change. However, no one is perfect. We can easily see in others the need to change, but how often are we willing to see the need to change within ourselves. We enter this year to form a new soul, new eyes, new ears, etc. We seek to change, to be changed by our experiences. Where do we need to change? What are some practical things we can do to improve ourselves in this coming year?

That brings me to my second point: our resolutions. People have a tendency to ‘resolve’ to do things immensely impractical. I resolve to go to the gym everyday. I resolve to not eat ANY junk food. I resolve to not drink alcohol. While those things might be great to do, they are so impractical. When we make those resolutions, we don’t actually expect them to be successful. They are cop-out resolutions, because they are not true resolutions. All they do is make others see how much we’re willing to change this year, but we need not actually change, because we know we cannot achieve them. Like I said above, we should all be able to agree that we all have need for change. Therefore, our resolutions should reflect that. We need to take a good look at our lives and honestly say to ourselves that places where we need to change. Then, we must be able make resolutions based on those areas for change. If we don’t make practical resolutions, then why make resolutions at all? Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.

Lastly, I want to challenge you. This year, I challenge you to duc in altum. At the end of every post, I put “Duc In Altum.’ It means ‘put out into the deep,’ coming from Luke 5:4 when Jesus tells Peter to cast his net into the deep water. It can be taken a few different ways, in a spiritual sense. Ultimately, it can be taken as going out to do something difficult, which will have much resistance. In the Church, it can be used to refer to going out into the world to evangelize, for there is much resistance to the Gospel in the world. There are many things that we need to do in our lives that will be met with much resistance. I challenge you to hold true to those. Bringing the Gospel out into the world is one of the hardest things to do, especially with the status of society today. But Christians have been given the duty to ‘make disciples of all nations.’ I challenge you to duc in altum, to put out into the deep in this coming year. Happy New Year, and good luck with your resolutions.

“Resolution One: I will live for God.
Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.”

-Jonathan Edwards

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Duc In Altum

Ad-Venire

“At this Christmas when Christ comes,
will He find a warm heart?
Mark the season of Advent by loving and serving
the others with God’s own love and concern.”

-Mother Teresa

This evening, I had the opportunity to attend a Rorate Caeli Mass at my home parish. It is a Mass about which I know very little, but it was quite beautiful! The Mass is a votive Mass in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The entire church was lit by only candles, and some of the seminarians from my diocese were there to chant some of the Mass parts. Also, when it came to the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the priest celebrated ad orientem – to the East – so that the priest was facing the same direction as the people. The Mass was indeed beautiful. Father’s homily was especially wonderful. I had never heard this priest from my parish preach, but I learned this evening that he is a great homilist. He reflected on two things as we approach Christmas throughout this Advent season. Those two things are what I would like to reflect on here.

Firstly, Father discussed the ad orientem posture of the Mass. He explained that it is an ancient posture of the Church, by which the priest and the congregation all face in the same direction. Everyone faces the East (or liturgical East) in anticipation of the coming Christ, both in the Incarnation and in the Second Coming. Therefore, it is a most appropriate posture to take during this Advent season, for we indeed anticipate the coming Christ. We look to the East as we seek to wait for the Lord. Christmas is the joyous season in which we remember when the Jesus Christ was born. The Advent seasons is a semi-penitential season in which the Church anticipates Christ’s coming at Christmas, at the Second Coming, and in our hearts. We are encouraged to utilize this season in order to prepare ourselves to bear Christ.

That leads us to the next portion of what Father discussed. God gives us a lovely and perfect exampleMary Help of Christians to follow as we seek to prepare our hearts for Christmas, for the coming of Christ: the Blessed Virgin Mary. While it is common for Protestants to neglect Marian devotion, we Catholics recognize her as a gift from God. God did not have to become man through the Blessed Virgin, but He did, and so we venerate His Mother as our own. During her pregnancy and during Christ’s childhood, the Blessed Virgin Mary had a relationship with Jesus more intimate than any other person would ever have. Having born the Christ to the world, Mary knows what it is that will make us worthy to bear Him. We must turn to Mary, to her intercession, to her love, so that we may be truly worthy and truly prepared to bear Jesus Christ within us. We must constantly turn to the Blessed Virgin, so that, as much as she is present within us, so too will Christ be present within us.

“Lovely Lady dressed in blue –
Teach me how to pray!

God was just your little boy,
Tell me what to say!

Did you lift Him up, sometimes,
Gently on your knee?
Did you sing to Him the way
Mother does to me?

Did you hold His hand at night?
Did you ever try
Telling stories of the world?
O! And did He cry?

Do you really think He cares
If I tell Him things –
Little things that happen? And
Do the Angels’ wings

Make a noise? And can He hear
Me if I speak low?
Does He understand me now?
Tell me – for you know.

Lovely Lady dressed in blue – 
Teach me how to pray!
God was just your little boy,
And you know the way.”

-Lovely Lady Dressed in Blue

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Duc In Altum

Gobble Gobble

“Thanksgiving is a time when the world
gets to see just how blessed and
how workable the Christian system is.
The emphasis is not on giving or buying,
but on being thankful and expressing that
appreciation to God and to one another.”

-John Clayton

Happy Thanksgiving. Today is an opportunity for us to step back and recognize all for which we are thankful. We take stock in all that we have, being content with all that the Lord has given us, and all that we have received from those around us. Especially in times like this, there is a tendency to lose sight of thankfulness and gratitude. We constantly want to get and get (or sometimes give), but we do not take time to be thankful for what we have. Thanksgiving is set apart as that day. While some people may get bogged down by the foundations of the holiday or the foundations of the country, we must not let that be an excuse not to celebrate this day. What is this holiday? It is an opportunity to thank God and those in our lives for everything that we have.

As Catholics, we seek to celebrate Thanksgiving in a special way. Every Sunday (or every day) we have the opportunity to take part in the Eucharistic celebration. Eucharist itself means ‘thanksgiving.’ While celebration of the Mass always presents us with an opportunity to thank God for all that we have, on Thanksgiving Day, it is especially important to step back and thank the Lord for all that He has given us. Though not a holy day, beginning this holiday (which ultimately came from ‘holy day’) with the Eucharist places everything in perspective: God has given us all that we have, and we place it all at His feet to do with as He wills.

As I said above, Thanksgiving is an opportunity for us to give thanks for all that we have. Black Friday has gradually been taking away from Thanksgiving and taking over. Black Friday was fine for a time, for it was merely a beneficial day for businesses. Then, as consumerism continued to prevail in our culture, Black Friday sales continued to start earlier and earlier, until they’ve gotten to a point where stores are opening at 5:00 pm, or even earlier. People are thus being overcome by their desires for more that they are neglecting to be thankful (with friends and family) and celebrate Thanksgiving. Not only are customers being taken from their friends and family, but so are employees at these businesses, having to get there early to set up and then to open the store.

I call for us to return to a proper celebration of Thanksgiving Day. While, as I said, Thanksgiving might not have had the best foundations, we must uphold the ultimate spirit of this holiday: true thankfulness and gratitude. We must seek to return Black Friday to FRIDAY. Thanksgiving must continue to reign on Thursday, as our national day for thankfulness. If we lose sight of Thanksgiving and the need for gratitude, our country will continue down this path toward self-centeredness, neglecting to be thankful for what we have and always desiring for the next new thing.

“Gratitude can transform
common days into Thanksgiving,
turn routine jobs into joy, and
change ordinary opportunities into blessings.”

-William Arthur Ward

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Duc In Altum

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