Stations of Cross offer Lenten reflection in action

ABERDEEN St. Francis of Assisi, Wednesdays at 4:30 p.m. followed by Mass at 5.
AMORY St. Helen, Fridays at 5 p.m., followed by Word and Communion Service.
BATESVILLE St. Mary, Fridays at 5 p.m.
BOONEVILLE St. Francis, Fridays at 5 p.m.
Chatawa St. Teresa of Avila, Fridays at 4:30 p.m.
CLEVELAND Our Lady of Victories, Fridays at 6 p.m.
COLUMBUS Annunciation School, Wednesday, April 12, at 2 p.m. in the gym
CORINTH St. James, Fridays at 7 p.m. with meatless soup at 6 p.m.
GLUCKSTADT St. Joseph, Wednesdays at 6 p.m., followed by Mass. On April 5, there will be Sacrament of Reconciliation from 5-7 p.m. (no Stations of the Cross).
GREENVILLE St. Joseph, Fridays at 5:30 p.m., March 31, followed by fish fry by KC ($10 per plate) and April 7, followed by shrimp and corn bisque ($10 per plate).
GREENWOOD Immaculate Heart of Mary, Fridays at noon and St. Francis of Assisi, Fridays at 6 p.m. in English. Spanish Stations of the Cross at 6:30 p.m.
GRENADA St. Peter, Fridays at 6:15 p.m. followed by soup and salad supper by Knights of Columbus.
HERNANDO Holy Spirit, Fridays at 6:30 p.m. followed by a Lenten meal (March 31) or fish fry (April 7) Good Friday at 3 p.m.
HOLLY SPRINGS St. Joseph, Fridays at 3 p.m.
Iuka St. Mary, Wednesdays at 9:30 a.m. followed by liturgy and Bible study.
JACKSON Holy Family, Fridays at 6 p.m.
– St. Peter Cathedral, Adoration and Stations of the Cross Fridays 4:30 – 6 p.m.
– St. Richard, Fridays at 2: 15 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.
MADISON St. Francis of Assisi, Fridays, Parish Rosary at 6 p.m. followed by Stations of the Cross at 6:30 p.m. and Lenten meal at 7 p.m. Good Friday “Live” Way of the Cross at 2 p.m. (weather permitting)
McCOMB St. Alphonsus, Fridays at 6 p.m. followed by meal in Liguori Hall.
Magnolia St. James, Fridays at 5:30 p.m. followed by meal in James Hall.
MERIDIAN St. Patrick, Friday, April 7, at 6 p.m. followed by fish fry fundraiser for Relay for Life team. Good Friday “Live” Way of the Cross at 5 p.m.
MERIDIAN St. Joseph, Friday, March 31, at 6 p.m.
NATCHEZ St. Mary Basilica, Fridays at 12:05 p.m. and the 5:15 pm followed by a fish fry in O’Connor Family Life Center (except on Good Friday).
NATCHEZ, Assumption, Fridays at 5:30 p.m.
OLIVE BRANCH Queen of Peace, Fridays at 6:30 p.m. followed by a Lenten meal (March 31) or fish fry (April 7). Good Friday at 3:00 p.m.
RAYMOND Immaculate Conception, Fridays at 7 p.m.
ROBINSONVILLE Good Shepherd, Wednesday, March 29, at 6:30 p.m. and Wednesday, April 5, at 6:30 p.m. Both will be followed by a Lenten meal
SARDIS St. John, Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. followed by a Word and Communion Service.
SENATOBIA St. Gregory, Fridays at 6:30 p.m. followed by a Lenten meal. Good Friday at 3 p.m.
SHAW St. Francis, Fridays after 6 p.m. Mass
SOUTHAVEN Christ the King, Fridays at 6:30 p.m. followed by either a Fish Fry (March 31) or Lenten Meal (April 7). Good Friday at 3 p.m.
TUPELO St. James, After 12:10 p.m. Mass; 6 p.m. with Benediction; 7 p.m. Spanish Stations of the Cross, Fish Fry on March 31 by KC
VICKSBURG St. Michael, Fridays at 5:30 p.m. followed by a fish fry by the Knights of Columbus.
VICKSBURG St. Paul, Fridays at 5:15 p.m. First Friday Mass and Anointing of the Sick on April 7, at noon followed by lunch in Farrell Hall
YAZOO CITY St. Mary, Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. followed by Mass and soup supper in the parish hall.

Lenten sacrifice can benefit Mississippi’s poor

Complete the circle
By George Evans
As Lent begins what do we do about Lenten practices, deeper conversion, spiritual growth, salvation. The Scripture readings from the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday bear some reflection.
Mark 10:17-27 presents the story of the rich young man who asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. He has kept the Commandments from his youth. Jesus looked at him lovingly and said “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The young man went away sad, for he had many possessions.
The disciples were amazed when Jesus said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God!” Is our reaction not the same? The world tells us just the opposite. Wealth makes us happy. Things satisfy us and money lets us buy them. New cars free us and extravagant resorts pamper us. But Jesus tells us simply that neither wealth nor anything else from ourselves can possibly save us. Salvation is only possible for God.
Lent asks us to embrace this reality. We must choose God or mammon. We can’t have both. But isn’t that exactly what we want, to have both? Isn’t that our struggle, our daily temptation?
Thank God we are all still works in progress and God knows that and is merciful. He sent his son to make salvation a true possibility for us. We couldn’t do it on our own. Lent is a perfect time to embrace Jesus in order to be saved. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are traditional and proven practices to open us to embrace Jesus, to choose God over mammon.
Serving the poor among us never fails to get us out of ourselves so that we touch Jesus in the poor and thereby choose God rather than mammon. We leave a little of our selfishness behind and perhaps open ourselves enough for Jesus to come in and help our conversion to continue to mature.
Giving up something for Lent is another tried-and-true practice for deeper conversion and spiritual growth preparing us step by step for God’s salvation. Make it hurt a little. It may be alcohol if you drink or sugar if you overeat or whatever needs work in your particular situation. Make it very positive by giving the extra money saved to Catholic Relief Service (CRS) Rice Bowl. CRS serves the poor and desperate in 100 countries throughout the world and leaves 25 percent of the Rice Bowl collection in the diocese to aid the poor at home. This too is a choice of God over mammon and a step toward salvation.
In Mark’s Gospel (10:28-31) Peter, somewhat pleading, tells Jesus “We have given up everything and followed you.” Jesus lovingly reassures Peter and us. “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age….and eternal life in the age to come.”
Lent is the perfect time for each of us to respond more fully to Jesus’ call. He has promised us if we live our lives for the sake of the Gospel and choose him rather than mammon, we will not only have eternal life but will also be blessed NOW a hundred fold. The Kingdom begins NOW when we choose the Lord over mammon. Lent is a great time to do what is necessary to finalize that choice. We have Jesus’ promise if we do. We have his help to do it.
(George Evans is a retired pastoral minister and member of Jackson St. Richard Parish.)

Pope: Lent breathes live into world asphyxiated by sin

By Junno Arocho Esteves
ROME (CNS) – Lent is a time to receive God’s breath of life, a breath that saves humanity from suffocating under the weight of selfishness, indifference and piety devoid of sincerity, Pope Francis said.
“Lent is the time to say no to the asphyxia born of relationships that exclude, that try to find God while avoiding the wounds of Christ present in the wounds of his brothers and sisters,” the pope said March 1 during an Ash Wednesday Mass.
Pope Francis celebrated the Mass after making the traditional Ash Wednesday procession from the Benedictine monastery of St. Anselm to the Dominican-run Basilica of Santa Sabina on Rome’s Aventine Hill.
After receiving ashes on top of his head from Cardinal Jozef Tomko, titular cardinal of the basilica, the pope distributed ashes to the cardinals, his closest aides, some Benedictines and Dominicans.
He also distributed ashes to a family and to two members of the Pontifical Academy for Martyrs, which promotes the traditional Lenten “station church” pilgrimage in Rome.
Lent, he said, is a time to say “no” to “all those forms of spirituality that reduce the faith to a ghetto culture, a culture of exclusion.”
The church’s Lenten journey toward the celebration of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection is made on a road “leading from slavery to freedom” and “from suffering to joy,” he said.
“Lent is a path: It leads to the triumph of mercy over all that would crush us or reduce us to something unworthy of our dignity as God’s children.”
The ashes, while a symbol of humanity’s origin from the earth, the pope said, is also a reminder that God breathes new life into people in order to save them from the suffocation of “petty ambition” and “silent indifference.”
“The breath of God’s life sets us free from the asphyxia that so often we fail to notice or become so used to that it seems normal, even when its effects are felt,” the pope said.
The Lenten season, he continued, is a “time for saying no” to the asphyxia caused by superficial and simplistic analyses that “fail to grasp the complexity of problems” of those who suffer most.
“Lent is the time to say no to the asphyxia of a prayer that soothes our conscience, of an almsgiving that leaves us self-satisfied, of a fasting that makes us feel good,” the pope said.
Instead, Pope Francis said, Lent is a time for Christians to remember God’s mercy and “not the time to rend our garments before evil but rather make room in our life for the good we are able to do.”
“Lent is the time to start breathing again. It is the time to open our hearts to the breath of the One capable of turning our dust into humanity,” the pope said.
(Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.)

Take Lenten prayer up a notch

By Carol Zimmermann
WASHINGTON (CNS) – Prayer, one of the three pillars of Lenten discipline, along with fasting and almsgiving, seems to get the biggest boost during Lent.
Spiritual leaders note that Catholics are most likely praying already and that Lent is a time to make this act even more intentional – to pray more or in a more focused way.
No matter how Catholics choose to up their prayer during Lent’s 40 days, they have opportunities to do so at their own parishes since many of them are offering Stations of the Cross, Eucharistic adoration, added times for confession and maybe even retreats.
Those who can’t make it to anything extra at church can tap into tools for prayer right on their computers or smartphones with everything from virtual Stations of the Cross to apps that track spiritual activities or offer help on preparing for confession, praying the rosary or reading the Bible. Plenty of online retreats also are available including ones specifically geared for Lent.
Father John Riccardo, pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth, Michigan, said Lenten prayers can be divided into two different areas of focus. The first few weeks, he advises people to pray about areas that need to change, but during the second half of Lent, he said, prayers should focus more on trying to understand Jesus’ actions and how Christians are called to respond to them.
If the promptings for more prayer and the abundance of tools or events to guide people in prayer are overwhelming, Catholics also can turn to an approach advised by some spiritual leaders: finding quiet time.
Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, said that in today’s busy and often noisy world it’s hard to find quiet, but he urged Catholics in his archdiocese to try it.
“Lent is the season of silence. It is a time to enter into the desert, as Jesus did for 40 days,” he said in his Lenten message posted Feb. 26 on the website of the Chicago Catholic, the archdiocesan newspaper.
“Admittedly, silence can make us feel uneasy,” he wrote. “Perhaps it is because silence forces us to think, to feel, to be in touch with those deep areas of our lives where a sense of emptiness or meaninglessness may be lurking in our hearts.”
The cardinal said the Gospels often portray Jesus going off alone in silence to pray, which not only says something about him but indicates something his followers should consider.
Along this line, Cardinal Cupich said he has asked pastors in the Chicago Archdiocese during Lent to allow for extra time for silence during Mass, especially after Communion. “We need this silent time to allow God to speak to us. That means quieting ourselves even from saying prayers and just being aware of what Jesus tells us: we abide in God and God in us.”
Jesuit Father Adolfo Nicolas, the former superior general of the Society of Jesus, gave similar advice in a video interview with The Jesuit Post in which he said, “We need to develop a taste for silence … where we can hear the Spirit.”
He said the act of being silent as a form of prayer is not accomplished in a short time and there is “no formula or magic word” to make it work.
(Follow Zimmermann on Twitter:@carolmaczim.)

Corned beef conundrum: Some dioceses give St. Patrick’s Day dispensation

By Carol Zimmermann
WASHINGTON (CNS) – When St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday, as it does about every seven years, the Lenten rule requiring Catholics to abstain from meat on Fridays collides with the long-held tradition of eating corned beef and cabbage.
The two occasions meet this year. March 17 marks the celebration of St. Patrick – known as the Apostle of Ireland for his years of missionary work there – and it also is a celebration of all things Irish and even green. This March 17, since it falls on a Friday in Lenten, also is a time of penitence.
The timing has not gone unnoticed by some U.S. bishops. Before Lent even started, many of them – including Bishop Joseph Kopacz of the Diocese of Jackson – issued dispensations for Catholics in their dioceses allowing them to eat meat on St. Patrick’s Day.
The dispensation does not take Catholics totally off the hook. Many bishops advised Catholics older than age 14, who are required to abstain from meat on Friday, to do an extra act of charity or penance in exchange for eating meat.
Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin, took it a step further. In a statement, he said Catholics should also “exercise due moderation and temperance in festivities and celebrations of the memorial of St. Patrick, in keeping with the solemnity and honor that is due to so great a saint and his tireless efforts to inspire holiness in the Christian faithful.”
He tempered that by also saying the day should “foster a joyful and reverent devotion to that great saint” and should also “honor the patrimony of the Irish people to whom he first preached the good news of salvation.”
As of Feb. 27, the following dioceses or archdioceses had announced giving the clear for Catholics to eat meat March 17: Jackson, Miss., Baltimore; New York; Milwaukee; St. Paul and Minneapolis; Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia; Omaha, Nebraska; and Jefferson City, Missouri.
The bishops primarily announced the one-day lifting of the church rule in statements posted on their diocesan websites.
Omaha Archbishop George J. Lucas granted a dispensation from the meat observance but those who eat meat on St. Patrick’s Day must abstain the next day, March 18.
New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan sent archdiocesan pastors a letter in late January notifying them of the dispensation and asking them to let their parishioners know about it.
Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki noted that abstaining from meat on Fridays in Lent is an “important dimension of the penitential nature of the season,” but he said Catholics in the archdiocese that day would not be required to give up meat “given the many celebrations that occur on this day,” which in the archdiocese also includes the ordination of two auxiliary bishops that afternoon.
Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis received a letter in late February from Susan Mulheron, chancellor of canonical affairs, saying the dispensation for St. Patrick’s Day had been issued by Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda after consulting archdiocesan leaders.
She said the archbishop considered past practice and present circumstances and decided the dispensation “would serve the common spiritual good.”
“As a general rule, a request for a dispensation from the obligation of abstinence on Fridays of Lent will not be considered unless some serious reason is present,” she wrote, adding that St. Patrick’s Day has “traditionally been an occasion for joy-filled celebrations in this archdiocese.”
Archbishop Hebda hinted he might grant the dispensation when he spoke at a Theology on Tap gathering Feb. 8 in St. Paul. When someone in the crowd asked him about the possibility of eating meat on St. Patrick’s Day, the archbishop asked for a show of hands of those who wanted to eat corned beef to honor St. Patrick.
“When you get a dispensation – and I think it’s coming – you should do penance on another occasion,” he told the crowd. “So, it’s like a get-out-of-jail-free card, but you have to pay sometime.”

Ash Wednesday: Ancient tradition still thrives in modern times

By Carol Zimmermann
WASHINGTON (CNS) – In more ways than one, Ash Wednesday — celebrated March 1 this year – leaves a mark.
That’s because not only are Catholics marked with a sign of penitence with ashes on their foreheads, but the rich symbolism of the rite itself draws Catholics to churches in droves even though it is not a holy day of obligation and ashes do not have to be distributed during a Mass.
Almost half of adult Catholics, 45 percent, typically receive ashes – made from the burned and blessed palms of the previous year’s Palm Sunday – at Ash Wednesday services, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.
Parish priests say they get more people at church that day than almost any other – excluding Christmas and Easter – and the congregations are usually much bigger than for Holy Thursday or Good Friday services.
“Virtually every parish that I’ve worked with will have more people come to Ash Wednesday than almost any other celebration,” said Thomas Humphries, assistant professor of philosophy, theology and religion at St. Leo University in St. Leo, Florida.
“We talk about Christmas and Easter as certainly being the most sacred and most attended events during the year, but Ash Wednesday is not even a day of obligation. In terms of liturgical significance, it’s very minor, but people observe it as overwhelmingly important,” he said in a Feb. 17 email to Catholic News Service.
Humphries said part of the Ash Wednesday draw is the “genuine human recognition of the need to repent and the need to be reminded of our own mortality. Having someone put ashes on your head and remind you ‘we are dust and to dust we shall return’ is an act of humility.”
He also said the day — which is the start of Lent in the Latin Church — reminds people that they are not always who they should be and it is a chance to “stand together with people and be reminded of our frailty and brokenness and of our longing to do better.”
“This practice is particularly attractive to us today because it is an embodied way to live out faith, to witness to Christian identity in the world, ” said Timothy O’Malley, director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy at the University of Notre Dame, where he also is a professor of New Testament and early Christianity.
He said that’s the only way to explain why millions of people identify themselves “as mortal sinners for an entire day.”
Jesuit Father Bruce Morrill, the Edward A. Malloy professor of Catholic studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville, Tennessee, thinks the appeal of Ash Wednesday is partly because participants receive a “marker of identity” as Catholics.
The day also has rich symbolism, he said, of both flawed humanity and mortality. He pointed out that even though a large percentage of Catholics do not go to confession they will attend this very penitential service because they “get a sense of repentance and a kind of solidarity in it.”
“Clearly it touches on a deep sense of Catholic tradition in a way few other symbols do,” he told CNS Feb. 17.
For many, it also links them to childhood tradition of getting ashes. It also links them, even if they are unaware of its origins, to an ancient church tradition.
The priest said the use of ashes goes back to Old Testament times when sackcloth and ashes were worn as signs of penance. The church incorporated this practice in the eighth century when those who committed grave sins known to the public had to do public penitence, sprinkled with ashes. But by the Middle Ages, the practice of penance and marking of ashes became something for the whole church.
Ash Wednesday also is one of two days, along with Good Friday, that are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholic adults – meaning no eating meat and eating only one full meal and two smaller meals.
The other key aspect of the day is that it is the start of the 40 days of prayer, fasting and almsgiving of Lent.
“Ash Wednesday can be a little bit like New Year’s Day,” Father Mike Schmitz, chaplain for Newman Catholic Campus Ministries at the University of Minnesota Duluth, told CNS in an email. He said the day gives Catholics “a place to clearly begin something new that we know we need to do.”


Oración, ayuno y limosna: Marcas distintivas de Cuaresma

Por Obispo Joseph Kopacz
El Miércoles de Ceniza es una de las celebraciones religiosas más reconocibles en el mundo católico y más allá. No es algo que sólo los católicos observan, sino es un ritual que marca el comienzo de la Cuaresma, la cual gradualmente se está expandiendo en el mundo cristiano. El año pasado, ya entrada la noche de ese día estaba haciendo algunas compras de alimentos y la cajera del establecimiento me preguntó: “¿Qué es eso que tienen en su frente?” Le dije que era polvo sagrado, un poderoso símbolo de la Iglesia Católica para el Miércoles de Ceniza, y añadí que la persona detrás de mí, que no era católica, también estaba marcada con cenizas, así que ten cuidado, le dije, porque parece que se está extendiendo. Su mirada fue una de total confusión.
Las cenizas, los restos de las palmas del año anterior, son importantes porque son un recordatorio de que el fruto del pecado es la muerte, un urgente comando para arrepentirse y creer en el Evangelio, una de las primeras demandas de Jesús en su ministerio público. Este ritual sigue el evangelio de san Mateo el Miércoles de Ceniza (6:1-18) que erige los pilares de oración, ayuno y limosna, el motor de conversión en el corazón del Sermón de la montaña. El Señor transformó las prácticas religiosas tradicionales de la antigua ley, no sólo por los 40 días de la temporada, sino como una forma de vida. Esto es evidente con su franqueza, cuando oran, cuando ayunen, al dar limosna. En el Sermón de la Montaña Jesús presentó el nuevo orden de la creación en el plan de salvación de Dios y oración, ayuno y limosna son la prueba viviente de que no nos entretienen rituales vacíos, incluso con polvo santo.
Estos pilares requieren una abnegación y disciplina que infunden vida al gran mandamiento de amar a Dios con todo nuestro corazón, mente, alma y fuerza, y al prójimo como a nosotros mismos. Recuerden que pequeña es la puerta y angosto el camino que lleva a la vida (Mateo 7:14), y que Dios no nos ha dado un espíritu de timidez, sino de poder, amor y disciplina (2Timoteo 1:7), en temporada y fuera de temporada (2Timoteo 4:2). Cada uno de los pilares tiene una longitud y altura, extensión y profundidad que cubren el mundo y todas las personas que viven en ella.
La oración surge de nuestra fe y es prueba de que amamos a Dios y queremos estar diariamente en conversación y en comunión con él en el nombre de Jesús y en el poder del Espíritu Santo. La oración tiene muchas caras, y todos los planteamientos encuentran su sentido fundamental en la Eucaristía, fuente y cumbre de toda oración.
Básicamente estamos diciéndole a Dios que lo amamos con todo nuestro ser, y que encontraremos el momento en medio de nuestras responsabilidades, cargas, búsquedas y distracciones para estar más presentes ante Aquel que es omnipresente. Podemos poner la alerta en nuestro teléfono celular, Fitbit, o en otros aparatos para recordarnos que el Señor está hablando y preguntando, ¿puedes oírme ahora? ¿Quién puede dudar que la oración tiene 365(6) días cada año?
El ayuno es claramente el menos apreciado y utilizado de los tres pilares de transformación. La Iglesia Católica, a través de los siglos se ha centrado acertadamente en la moderación durante los días de ayuno y abstinencia, recordando las palabras del Señor al tentador al final de su 40 día de ayuno que el hombre y la mujer no sólo de pan viven, sino de toda palabra que sale de la boca de Dios, (Mateo 4:4). Una disciplina más intencional hacia el consumo culinario cada día sería ideal, haciendo mucho más que promover un estilo de vida saludable, como es digno. El Papa Benedicto nos ofrece la suprema justificación. El objetivo final del ayuno es ayudar a que cada uno de nosotros le demos el regalo total del sí a Dios. Este es el comienzo y el final del ayuno y no se trata del control de los alimentos, sino del ayuno y la abstención de todos nuestros ídolos, y hay legiones. El ayuno de drogas “recreativas” y del alcohol (adicción, una enfermedad, no ofrece ninguna latitud), de los juegos de azar, de la indulgencia sexual inmoral, la pornografía, el exceso de televisión, nuestros gadgets que obstaculizan nuestras relaciones, el ayuno de la ira y la pereza, la envidia y el orgullo, la codicia y el cinismo.
La lista puede seguir, pero el ayuno que cambia la vida impregna todos los aspectos de nuestro ser, dando una dimensión apropiada a todo lo que es una bendición en nuestras vidas, y liberándonos de todo lo que puede hacernos daño o que debilita nuestra relación con Dios. Obviamente, esto no es una empresa de 40 días, sino una forma de vida que la Cuaresma puede renovar para nosotros.
La limosna, para que no nos detengamos en el umbral de nuestro propio mejoramiento o preocupaciones, el tercer pilar nos permite colocar nuestra oración y ayuno al servicio del Señor, que nos enseña a amar a Dios, a nuestro prójimo y a nosotros mismos. La limosna es una generosidad de espíritu, una magnanimidad que nos permite servir y compartir, perdonar y responder a las necesidades de los demás en nuestra vida personal y en nuestro mundo, en una forma que sólo puede provenir de la mente y el corazón de Jesús Cristo revelado a través de nuestra oración y ayuno. En el evangelio del domingo pasado del Sermón de la Montaña Jesús oímos decir a Jesús que debemos ser perfectos como nuestro Padre celestial es perfecto. No se trata de no cometer errores, o de estar en nuestro juego cada día, pero a la luz de todo lo que Jesús está enseñando durante el Sermón de la montaña, es un morir a sí mismos, como la semilla que cae en la tierra (Jn 12:24), para que podamos dar el fruto del Reino.
Mientras llegamos al umbral de la Cuaresma y nos preparamos para recibir las cenizas, física o espiritualmente, que esta marca en nuestras frentes sea para nosotros una invitación a alejarnos del pecado y creer en el Evangelio como nuestro estándar de vida. Pero, vamos a disfrutar también de una porción de la torta del rey, (King Cake) una especialidad del Mardi Gras que he venido saboreando desde que me mudé a Mississippi. Con moderación, por supuesto.

Prayer, fasting, almsgiving: hallmarks of Lent

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
Ash Wednesday is one of the most recognizable religious observances in the Catholic World and beyond. Not only is it something ‘those Catholics do,’ but a ritual marking the beginning of Lent that is gradually expanding into the broader Christian world. Last year, later in the day, I was doing some food shopping and the attendant at the checkout counter asked me, “what y’all got on your forehead?” I said it’s holy dust, a powerful symbol in the Catholic Church for Ash Wednesday and added that the person behind me, who was not Catholic, was also marked with ashes, so be careful because it appears to be spreading. Her look was one of utter confusion.
The ashes, the remains of the previous year’s palms, are significant because they are a stark reminder that the wages of sin are death, a compelling command to repent and believe in the Gospel, the first of Jesus’ demands in his public ministry. This ritual follows the Ash Wednesday gospel from Saint Matthew (6:1-18) that erect the pillars of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, the engine of conversion in the heart of the Sermon on the Mount.
The Lord transformed the traditional religious practices of the Old Law not only for a 40-day season, but as a way of life. This is evident with his straightforwardness, when you pray, when you fast, when you give alms. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus, introduced the new order of creation in God’s plan of salvation and prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the living proof that we don’t entertain empty rituals, even with holy dust.
These pillars require a selflessness and discipline that infuse life into the great commandments to love God with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. Recall that small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life (Matthew 7:14) and that God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power, love and discipline (2Timothy 1,7), in season and out of season (2Timothy 4,2).
Each of the pillars has a length and height, breath and depth that cover the world and every living person on it. Prayer arises out of our faith and is evidence that we love God and daily want to be in conversation and communion with him in the name of Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Prayer has many faces and all approaches find their ultimate meaning in the Eucharist, the source and summit of all prayer. Essentially we are saying to God that we do love you with all we’ve got and we will find the time in the midst of our responsibilities, burdens, pursuits and distractions to be more present to the One who is omnipresent. We can set the alert on our iPhone, Fitbit, or on other devices to remind us that the Lord is speaking and asking, can you hear me now? Who can doubt that prayer has a 365(6) day season each year?
Fasting clearly is the most under-appreciated and under-utilized of the three pillars of transformation. The Catholic Church through the ages rightly has focused on moderation during the days of fasting and abstinence, mindful of the words of the Lord to the tempter at the end of his 40-day fast that man and woman do not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4) A more intentional discipline toward our culinary consumption every day would be ideal, doing much more than promoting healthy living, as dignified as this is. Pope Benedict offers us the supreme rationale. The ultimate goal of fasting is to help each of us to make the complete gift of self to God. This is the beginning and the end of fasting and it is not only a matter of food control, but of fasting and abstaining from all of our idols and there are legions. Fasting from “recreational” drugs and alcohol (addiction, a disease, offers no latitude), from gambling, immoral sexual indulgence, pornography, excessive television, our gadgets that impede our relationships, fasting from anger and laziness, envy and pride, greed and cynicism.
The list can go on, but the fasting that is life-changing permeates all aspects of our being, right sizing all that is a blessing in our lives and liberating us from all that can harm us or another, or weaken our relationship with God. Obviously, this is not a 40-day enterprise, but a way of life that Lent can renew for us.
Almsgiving: So that we do not stall at the threshold of our own self improvement or preoccupations, the third pillar allows us to place our prayer and fasting at the service of the Lord who teaches us to love God, our neighbor and ourselves. Almsgiving is a generosity of spirit, a magnanimity, that allows us to serve and to share, to forgive and to respond to the needs of others in our personal lives and in our world, in a manner that can only come from the mind and heart of Jesus Christ revealed through our prayer and fasting.
In last Sunday’s gospel from the Sermon on the Mount we heard Jesus say that we are to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. It is not a matter of not making mistakes, or of being on our game each and every day, but in light of all that Jesus is teaching during the Sermon on the Mount, it is the path of self emptying, a dying to self, like the seed that falls to the earth (John 12,24), so that we can bear the fruit of the Kingdom.
As we arrive at the threshold of Lent and prepare to receive the ashes, physically or spiritually, may this mark on our foreheads be for us an invitation to turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel as our standard for living. But, let’s enjoy also a serving of King Cake, a Mardi Gras specialty that I’ve come to relish since moving to Mississippi. In moderation, of course.

Organizations offer myriad Lenten resources

In addition to old-fashioned fasting from food, private prayer, stations of the cross and giving alms, many organizations are offering high-tech help for those who wish to observe Lent, but might need a boost. Here are just a few resources on offer.
– Bishop Robert Baron: The founder of Word on Fire Ministries and prolific digital evangelist writes a daily reflection for Lent based on the gospel reading for the day. His reflections include video and musical components. Sign up at
– Busted Halo: Busted Halo is a ministry of The Paulist Fathers, a religious order of Roman Catholic priests who believe strongly in using the most modern methods of communication to bring to life the ancient message of the Gospel. The Busted Halo website offers Lenten-themed Daily Jolts and MicroChallenges to find new ways to practice the disciplines of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Each day of Lent, we’ll offer an inspirational quote paired with a practical, challenging task that you can do that day to help keep your spiritual life on point. Go to or search for them on Twitter and Facebook.
– CRS Rice Bowl: Even the Catholic Relief Service Rice Bowl has a robust digital component. This year, CRS Rice Bowl provides a path for Catholics in the United States to build, what Pope Francis calls “a culture of encounter” by offering a daily Lenten calendar, sharing weekly stories of hope, and making meatless meals, participants will follow a personal journey that leads to us seeing ourselves in the faces of our neighbors, cultivating a spirit of global solidarity and encountering God’s love anew. Remember that a portion of the proceeds from Rice Bowl stay in this diocese. Sign up for emails at or download the app on Android or in the Apple AppStore.
– Dynamic Catholic: The ministry founded by evangelist Matthew Kelly offers a free daily video-based email called “Best Lent Ever,” offering tips on how to embrace the season and have what Kelly calls a memorable Lent. Sign up at
– U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: Readers can find a variety of resources on the USCCB website incluing reflections on fasting, a Lectio Divina specific to Lent, daily reflections and a guide to going to Reconciliation. Links and information are online:
– I phone fast: Taking the opposite tack, the Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn., is asking the faithful to fast from their phones and tablets on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Maria Zone, Communications Director for the archdiocese explained in a letter that “the thinking is that silencing our busy phones on these two holy days will give God a chance to call our hearts.” Find a graphic readers can share on social media pages on facebook by searching for I phone fast.

Liturgies express unfathomable

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
How is it possible to give form to the unfathomable riches of God’s saving love for us in Jesus Christ?  Our best efforts are merely to grasp at it, as Saint Paul writes on behalf of the early church in his letter to the Philippians: “Although he was in the form of God, he did not deem equality with God, but rather took the form of a slave, something to be grasped.”
This great mystery takes shape in the Body of Christ, the Church, through Worship and Word, in Community and Service, in our efforts on behalf of justice and peace in our world.
The dimension of worship is most sublime during these days of Holy Week and with celebration of Easter as we strive to know the Lord in the cross and resurrection. The season of Lent, begun with ashes, gathers itself nearly forty days later around the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.

We know this as Palm Sunday, a feast near and dear to many Catholics, and rightly so.  Holding our palms, we stand as sentries, faithful witnesses to Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, professing that we have already died with him through our baptism into his death and resurrection.

This year the Gospel of Matthew is proclaimed, the one who has priority of place as the first among the four Gospels, and the 27 books in the New Testament. The reading of the Lord’s Passion is the defining moment of the Word of God on Palm Sunday, oh that long Gospel passage, as we relive and reimagine the height and depth, length and breath of God’s passionate love for us.

We are grasped by God in the compelling narrative of the Last Supper, the foundation of the Eucharist, the agony in the garden, the trial and torture, the denial and betrayal, the death on the Cross, and the faithful disciples at the foot of the Cross, witnessing the final agonizing breath, and the blood poured out for the salvation of all, indeed something to be grasped.

On Holy Thursday morning Lent officially ends, and the Church prepares to give form to God’s undying love for us in the most inspiring liturgies of the Church year which we call the Sacred Triduum. The Holy Oils that were blessed earlier in Holy Week at the Chrism Mass by the bishop of each diocese are featured in procession during the Holy Thursday Liturgy.  The Oil of Catechumens, or the Salvation, marks the heart of every person to be baptized.

The Oil of Chrism which seals our life in Jesus Christ after Baptism, confirms us in the Holy Spirit at Confirmation, sets apart a newly ordained priest and bishop, and blesses the altar of sacrifice, is distributed to all parishes to sanctify the faithful. Lastly, the Oil of the Sick is carried forward which the Church will use during the Sacrament of Anointing as a sign of hope and healing for those suffering from illness of body, mind, and spirit.
At the heart of the Holy Thursday Liturgy are the Lord’s words of institution “take and eat for this is my body; take and drink for this is my blood; do this in memory of me.” In John’s gospel these words of the Lord are inextricably linked with his actions in the washing of the Apostles’ feet.

As he poured out his love for us in his passion and death, the bloodless sacrifice of the Eucharist, so we too are called to loving service, and to know the inseparable bond that our service, suffering and sacrifice have with His. This is distinctly true for priests and bishops who have been set apart to serve the Lord at the altar, and the Body of Christ daily in the Church for the salvation of all.

After the majestic Eucharistic procession at the end of the Holy Thursday Liturgy, the Church enters into adoration in preparation for the stark commemoration of the Lord’s passion and death.  Scripture, Veneration of the Cross and Holy Communion mark the Good Friday Liturgy with the cross as the centerpiece of a bare sanctuary.

Embellishment of the liturgical space has no place when grasping at the death of the Son of God. At the end of the Good Friday service the ministers of the Liturgy strip bare the sanctuary, and the Church enters into a somber silence in the face of death. The Mass, the great Eucharistic prayer, cannot be celebrated prior to the Easter Vigil of the Lord’s resurrection.

Grasping at the power of the Lord’s resurrection, the Easter Vigil Liturgy, affectionately known as “that really long Mass,” breaks upon the scene. Fire, candles illuminating the darkness, a bold proclamation of the Exultet, all combine to scatter the darkness of gloom and death.

God’s saving Word is proclaimed, and alleluias shatter the silence of the tomb. Catechumens come forward to be baptized, and they and the candidates receive full initiation through Confirmation and Eucharist. All renew their promises of baptism and the church rejoices in communion with Jesus Christ, something to be grasped.
Easter Sunday is a day of great joy in light of the Lord’s resurrection, and all the faithful renew their promises of baptism, the culmination of the Lenten journey. It is the beginning of the Easter Octave and Season.

The Octave will be eight days, a veritable Easter Day to savor this moment, and the season will be fifty, a time to marvel at the power and presence of the risen Lord in our lives, and his call in our lives to be witnesses to the unfathomable riches of God’s undying love for us, something to be grasped.
May you and your family enjoy a joyful and happy Easter season.