Tag Archives: Lenten

Transfiguration Sunday

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Thou wast transfigured on the mountain, O Christ, our God, showing to Thy disciples Thy glory as each one could endure. Shine forth Thou on us, who are sinners all, Thy light ever-unending. Through the prayers of the Theotokos, Light-Bestower, glory to Thee.

The focus of today is not our self-initiated transfiguration but on our attentive listening to Christ and our worthy approach of the altar to be transfigured by the Risen Christ present in the Eucharist.
Can we approach the Transfigured Christ and allow him to change us?

Planted in the Lord

Today’s first reading and Gospel ask the question (Mar 6, 2011): how, in fact, are we grounded in the Lord? Have I allowed Christ to enter into my life sufficiently and without reservation? Am I aware that Christ takes the initiative in calling me to a deeper conversion and that I have to respond? In your lectio divina today, set out to ground yourself in the Lord.

Pope Benedict’s message for the 2011 World Youth Day participants draws this line of thinking out:

“We … want to be able to see Jesus, to speak with him and to feel his presence even more powerfully. For many people today, it has become difficult to approach Jesus. There are so many images of Jesus in circulation which, while claiming to be scientific, detract from his greatness and the uniqueness of his person. That is why, after many years of study and reflection, I thought of sharing something of my own personal encounter with Jesus by writing a book. It was a way to help others see, hear and touch the Lord in whom God came to us in order to make himself known. Jesus himself, when he appeared again to his disciples a week later, said to Thomas: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe” (Jn 20:27). We too can have tangible contact with Jesus and put our hand, so to speak, upon the signs of his Passion, the signs of his love. It is in the sacraments that he draws particularly near to us and gives himself to us. Dear young people, learn to “see” and to “meet” Jesus in the Eucharist, where he is present and close to us, and even becomes food for our journey. In the sacrament of Penance the Lord reveals his mercy and always grants us his forgiveness. Recognize and serve Jesus in the poor, the sick, and in our brothers and sisters who are in difficulty and in need of help.”

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday on March 9. What is on your list of Bona Opera, your good works? Chapter 49 of the Rule of Saint Benedict speaks of the monk (here, all people) keeping Lent in front of our eyes all the time. He urges us, therefore, to do good, to keep purity in our hearts and minds by refraining from evil. Saint Benedict exhorts us to restrain ourselves from sinful habits and to devote time to prayer of the heart, fasting, lectio divina, compunction, ascetism, and charitable work.

How are you going to build your spiritual life on solid ground? In what ways are you going to be a spiritual father and mother to another? Will you pray, fast and give alms to the good works of the Church uniting your intentions with the Sacred Heart of Jesus for sake of poor, needy, the Church, the Pope, sinful people and priests, etc? Will you study the Word of God and spend time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament?

What is fasting? What Catholics teach…

In the famous Sermon on the Mount Jesus speaks of the three important spiritual exercises: fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Here I want to write about fasting. And over the many centuries that the Catholic Church has existed, there has been development in the teaching based on experience.

Jesus’ teaching on fasting is this:

*Fasting is an extremely important means –not an ends– of resisting sin and the threat of hell.

*Fasting is practiced as a memorial of Christ’s death on Good Friday; it ought to be practiced each Friday but the Church only requires fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

*Fasting is intimately linked to prayer and almsgiving as spiritual exercises.

In paragraph of 2043 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting the Code of Canon Law, states, “The fourth precept (“You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church”) ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts and help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart.”

Our Church still believes that fasting is not only helpful, but is required because it forms and reforms a sense of faith, hope and charity. Serious Christians will not abandon the practice of fasting, especially before significant events in life like baptism, confirmation, marriage, ordination, etc. So what does the Church believe about fasting? Fasting means…

*There are two fast-days on which we are allowed but one full meal but person can have one full meal, take two other meatless meals, to maintain strength, according to one’s needs. Taken together these two meatless meals should not equal another full meal.

*All people over 18 and under 59 years of age, and whose health and occupation will permit them to fast. (Abstinence begins for those who are 14.) The Church, showing mercy, does excuse certain persons from the obligation of fasting on account of age, health, work, or the circumstances in which they live. Children, from the age of seven years, and persons who are unable to fast are bound to abstain on days of abstinence, unless they are excused for sufficient reason. If questions persist, please find a parish priest for consultation.

*Fast-days occur during Advent and Lent, on the Ember days and on the vigils or eves of some great feasts. A vigil falling on a Sunday is not observed.

Fasting is often seen by some people as antiquated, harmful, or a waste of time. To think that fasting is only about the legal requirements of the faith, is a serious reduction of the practice of religion to ideology. Moralism is shallow and gets us no where. I will say, fasting is an essential part of being formed in the Catholic faith, adhering closely to Christ. No one who takes seriously their faith can dispense themselves without good reason from fasting as Christ fasted. Yes, it is hard and yes it is annoying but the pay-off is profound because it opens the body, the heart and the mind to grace. Fasting allows us to see more deeply and clearly the conversion we are called to work on, and to be less satisfied with the status quo. Fasting assists our restlessness in tending towards God by stripping away sin (and a little weight comes off, all the better). 

I have to say there is a beauty in fasting because it is a method in emptying myself of that which weighs me down either with food –which makes me sluggish and at time incapable of listening to the movements of the Holy Spirit in my life– or fasting from sinful tendencies which can also make me sluggish but there is a significant risk in not fasting from sin because sin leads away from God and from the heart of the Church, the sacrament of Christ on earth.

How are you approaching Lent this year?

Grant, O Lord, that Thy faithful may begin the solemn days of Lent with fitting piety and may persevere therein with steadfast devotion.

It is time to “begin the time of fasting with joy, submitting ourselves to spiritual struggle” in preparing to live fully the Paschal Mystery of the Lord (His saving life, death, resurrection and Ascension). “By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 540).

St Gregory delivers soul of monk GBCrespi.jpgWhat is asked of those who make the claim to follow Christ? It seems to me that the path to understanding and living these 40 days of Lent in order to live the rest of the year as a true, honest, loving Christian. Lent, oddly enough, is a joyful time when we have a focused embrace of the spiritual struggle played out in acts of contrition, purification and prayerfulness. Often we hear Lent reduced to prayer, fasting and almsgiving. True enough, those are the hallmarks of Lent. But to broaden our sense of Lent let’s think that there is time for fasting, abstinence from certain foods, ways of thinking, acting, speaking, simple living (frugality), restriction of personal desires, intense prayer, confession of sins, and similar ascetic elements are essential to the period of Lent. Lent is a time for good work on the soul and the heart (and the body if need be). No doubt if we take Lent seriously and actually do some these spiritual works, they may be burdensome obligations or unbearable duties. We may even feel a bit despondent or dejected. The spiritual fathers and mothers all tell us that to truly follow Christ with any degree of honesty we have to work on changing our lives by conforming the self to Christ, even if it hurts. How do know how conform the self to Christ? Do lectio divina (see entry 1 and entry 2), pray the rosary, go to confession, do charitable work, spend time in silence alone in personal prayer, adore Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, and go to Mass. And read a good book on the Catholic faith.


The liturgical season of Lent is 40 days -not a long period of spiritual training–and it ought to be regarded as an invaluable and divine gift from a God who loves us and wants us to be in relationship with Him. It is a sacred time of divine grace, which seeks to detach us from things material, lowly and corrupt in order to attract us toward things superior, wholesome and spiritual (see Catechism 1434-9). As one Christian leader said, “Lent is a unique opportunity to remove from the soul every passion, to rid the body of everything superfluous, harmful and mortal. Accordingly, then, it is a time of immense rejoicing and gladness. Lent is a genuine feast and time for exhilaration!”

Fasting expected of us by the Church, as well as the abstinence, frugality, restriction of personal desires and unnecessary pleasures or expenses, literally constitute a prescription for salvation. This is especially true this year, when our world has experienced a global economic crisis, filled with imminent danger of bankruptcy not only for individuals and companies, skyrocketing unemployment, the creation of entire hosts of people plagued by poverty, nihilism, depression, crime, and other societal ills. Lent is an education that labors to instruct us in a particular daily journey with not a great sense of “success,” without the arrogance and entitlement of extravagance, waste and bravado. It encourages us to surrender all forms of greed and ignore the challenges of commercial advertising, which constantly promotes new and false necessities (see Catechism 1430-3).

The Lenten season provokes us to limit ourselves to what is absolutely essential and necessary in an attitude of dignified, deliberate simplicity. Christian leaders advise us not to be a consuming or compulsive herd of thoughtless and heartless individuals, but a culture of sensitive and caring persons, sharing with and supporting our “neighbor” that is in poverty or recession. Finally, Lent informs us about patience and tolerance in moments of smaller or larger deprivation, while simultaneously emphasizing the need to seek God’s assistance and mercy, placing our complete trust in His affectionate providence.

That is how Christ envisions Lent. That is how the saints lived Lent. This is how the Church Fathers undertakes the struggle of Lent. This is how our faith has traditionally understood Great Lent. This is how the Church in Rome observes Lent. What about you?

Pope on retreat: “The priest encounters Jesus and follows him,” is the theme

Arinze.jpgFrom March 1-7 you won’t be seeing too much Vatican activity since many, if not all, of the curial officials (the people who run the various Vatican offices for Pope’s apostolic ministry) are making their annual Lenten retreat. This year the retreat is being preached by Francis Cardinal Arinze, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on the theme of  “The priest encounters Jesus and follows him.”


Cardinal Arinze was interviewed by the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano about the retreat. The following comments have been excerpted from that interview, translated by NCRegister correspondent Edward Pentin.


Why did you choose this theme for the retreat of the Pope?

Cardinal Francis Arinze: I thought that in the meeting and following of Jesus, we are able to see a summary of all Christianity. On one side there is Jesus who calls us. On the other, we have with us our response: the encounter, so we follow and this becomes a program for life. It was like that for the first apostles: Jesus saw them and told them to follow him. In the following there includes listening to his teaching, miracles, prayer.


We can say that the apostles have completed three years in seminary and the rector was the Son of God. But the call of Jesus is not only for the priests.

Certainly, the reflections that are offered to the Pope are not only for priests but apply to everyone, because Christianity is about the encounter of Jesus with everyone. Everyone can apply it to himself, according to his vocation and mission. And each can give a different answer.

Among the disciples, there were those who immediately left their nets and became his disciples. But there were also those who remained attached to material things, asked for time, and wanted to first return to their loved ones before leaving.


Since then, two thousand years have passed. Can the man of today still meet Jesus?

If you want to, you can meet him, but always two major obstacles must be overcome. The first is superficiality, distraction. And the second is fear. Pontius Pilate is the paradigm of those who are afraid to face the truth. Jesus speaks to him, but he’s afraid. He says, “I have come to bear witness to the truth.” And Pilate asks, “What is truth?”


But his question is not that of a philosopher who is awaiting the reply. It’s one asked without listening, without waiting, without realizing that the truth is right in front of him. Even today many people are missing an appointment with the truth, because they are afraid of what Jesus is and his message. They do not realize that faith is not an obstacle to existence, but a promise of life and truth that goes beyond what is contingent.


Where can this meeting take place?

One of the key places — not physical but spiritual — is prayer. Prayer is to leave a space of silence for God, not only externally, but especially internally. You listen. The meditations I am giving the Pope will speak particularly of this, and will remember the long hours of prayer that Jesus spent alone, and will emphasize that the question the disciples asked: “Lord, teach us to pray”.

Another meeting place is in scripture: Jesus is the Word of God who became man. Scripture is the written Word of God. When we read the Bible and when we proclaim it during the liturgy, it is God who speaks. The Gospel is not a dusty book of the past. It is the voice of God today.

A third place is the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. He himself has chosen this as the first pillar, he has given his guarantee that she will always be with you and has promised her the Holy Spirit. In the meditations I will emphasize this dimension: the Church is the Body of Christ, with Christ as the head. This is reflected in the liturgy where we meet Jesus, really and substantially, through Eucharistic communion. It is recognized in charity, especially towards the sick, the elderly, refugees, the poor. Jesus can speak in all these situations. Paul told us that the Church looks at the face of every suffering person and sees Jesus. We do not expect that Jesus will appear, because we are already close to him.


If for the Christian encountering Jesus means to follow Him, what happens when such an attitude of discipleship is missing from the priest?

It is Jesus who gives meaning to the life of the priest. Without him, the priest cannot understand, he no longer makes sense. I would say that his vocation becomes like a farce. For those who, in fact, celebrate, preach, and work?


St. Paul said: “For me, to live is Christ.” The priest is Christ’s ambassador. So if it is necessary for every Christian to follow Jesus, the more so for the priest. His testimony is before the eyes of everyone, especially those who do not believe.


Of course, it is possible that there are deficiencies in priests. Not all priests have been, and are, saints. The Gospel does not hide the weaknesses and falls of the disciples of Christ. There were those who asked Jesus to set fire to a city of Samaria, or who attributed themselves the right to be the first among all.


And then there is Judas Iscariot, who was with Jesus, but didn’t love him. He hardened his heart, closed it to him. This demonstrates that the human heart can fail, that the freedom given by God can be misused. In the history of the Church, unfortunately this has happened other times.


Can the penitential dimension of Lent help a priest renew his experience of his encounter with Christ?

Yes, starting with the act of receiving the ashes, which means to accept being sinners. The Church asks to pray a lot during Lent not only as a sign of adoration to God but also to repent of sins committed. It is not enough to receive forgiveness from God, we must also recognize that we have offended the love of God.


And then there is fasting to which the Pope has dedicated his Lenten message. It is today seen just as a gesture, but it should be understood in the proper meaning. Its true meaning is doing something pleasing for others such as sharing goods with the poor.

Solidarity with the suffering is also a way to show the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebration. At the end of Mass the priest says: Go and live what has been celebrated, heard, meditated and prayed. Helping those who are elderly, alone, imprisoned, disabled, is a way to live the Eucharist.


Benedict XVI clearly says this in Deus Caritas Est: If the Eucharist does not translate into works of charity it is fragmented, incomplete.


But shouldn’t we still recall the sobriety with which the Pope has re-launched his message of this year?

To fast is to accept that we are sinners. You do without something. It is also a means of spiritual ‘training’, similar to what athletes practice in order to succeed in a sport.

Then there is the most dynamic dimension, which is precisely that of helping the poor. Spend less and help our brothers who have not: it is the lifestyle advocated by the Pope in his message for World Day of Peace this year. The Christian spirit must go in the opposite direction with respect to unfettered consumerism.


Having beliefs and cabinets that are full — full of things that often we do not need or use just a few times — is an insult to the poor.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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